Irish teetering on the bubble

NEWARK – The good news for Notre Dame: the Irish played 11 minutes without Luke Harangody and didn’t fall apart.

The bad news for the Irish: they lost.

And they had to play without Harangody.

The Big East’s second-leading scorer fell awkwardly as he battled Seton Hall’s Herb Pope for a rebound late in Thursday night’s 90-87 loss to the Pirates. He left for two minutes, came back in but then left for good with 4:40 left and his Notre Dame team down two.

Brey said he didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong with his senior, that Seton Hall docs checked Harangody’s ligaments and gave him the all clear.

“He just tweaked it,’’ Brey said. “He tried, but then he said, ‘Coach I’m really sore.’ I didn’t want to mess with that.’’

Brey said they’ll recheck Harangody in the morning before making a decision for the Irish’s Sunday game against St. John’s.

The Irish don’t have a lot of wiggle room. They need Harangody desperately. The Irish are 17-8 and an averagely middling 6-6 in the Big East.

Technically still on the bubble, they are rapidly playing their way off of it.

Notre Dame has one quality win – its 2-point upset of West Virginia – and then just two victories against South Florida against teams with an RPI of 50 or better.

Losses at Rutgers and Cincinnati could be killers, not just in terms of RPI, but in terms of giving the Irish any sort of separation from a crowded group of so-so Big East teams (a crowd perhaps thinned by one with Louisville getting thumped at St. John’s).

“That’s my book, ‘Life on the Bubble',’’ Brey deadpanned. “It will be out at the Big East Tournament. We’re in the mix, but we know exactly where we are. We have work to do but the good news about the Big East is, it’s really hard but you have opportunities. The bad news is it’s really hard.’’

What ails Notre Dame is what has plagued the Irish for years – a toreador’s blasé attitude toward defense. Jeremy Hazell came into the game averaging 23.8 points against Big East opponents. Two games ago he went for 35 against Villanova.

Yet there he was, lighting up the Irish for 35 on 12-of-16 shooting and 8-of-11 from behind the arc. Hazell can do that to you – he is the quintessential rhythm and streak shooter who could score from the Hall’s South Orange campus once he gets going. But the Irish also played him inexplicably soft at the 3-point line. Case in point: late in the second, Hazell swiped a pass and headed down on the break. Carleton Scott sagged toward the basket, thinking for some reason Hazell would drive. Instead he drained a trey.

“When we were 3-3 we gave them the worst-case scenario of finishing 9-9.’’ Brey said. “We’ve been very clear with them in terms of what we have to do all along. So we’ll see.’’