Minus star, Irish salvaged season

Luke Harangody has been the face of Notre Dame basketball, but his absence from the floor might have been the best thing to happen to the Irish. Mark Zerof/US Presswire

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Last month the Notre Dame men's basketball team was flat on its back, reaching up and raking dirt into its own postseason grave for the second season in a row.

Star forward Luke Harangody went down with a severely bruised knee against Seton Hall on Feb. 11 -- the start of a three-game slide that underscored a devastating stretch of seven losses in 10 outings.

Harangody's decorated career in a Fighting Irish uniform appeared to be finished; his team's hope of earning an NCAA tournament berth less likely than hearing: And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to ... "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."

Like last season, when coach Mike Brey's squad squandered a solid start by dropping seven consecutive Big East Conference contests to eventually wash up on the littered shoreline of the National Invitational Tournament, the Notre Dame athletics office began frantically brainstorming creative ways to slap lipstick on what would surely be another disappointing NIT appearance.

At least Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center would host another game to make up for all the others (and there were a lot) that featured plenty of empty seats.

"We were up against the wall," Brey said on Monday, just hours before his team (21-10, 10-8) boarded a plane bound for New York City and the league tourney at Madison Square Garden, where the No. 7 seed Irish will take on Providence/Seton Hall Wednesday in the second round.

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