NEW YORK – Pop.
The extremely diaphanous bubble holding Seton Hall’s NCAA tournament hopes officially burst here in the Big East tournament. The Pirates absolutely had to beat Notre Dame to have an outside chance of getting a ticket.
Instead the high-scoring Pirates – the same ones who dropped 109 against Providence a night earlier – could barely get over 50 against the Irish, and all but sealed their NIT fate.
But instead of pummeling the losers here, it’s time to salute the winners. Notre Dame moved into the quarterfinals and squarely and finitely into the NCAA tournament field with their fifth consecutive win. A team that less than a month ago looked way out of the NCAA tournament instead played its way in with its best player on the bench with an injury.
The Irish’s stunning Luke Harangody-less rally may be the most surprising event in a very surprising Big East season.
There is no one hotter in the league right now and no one playing with more confidence.
How did this one go down? A few ideas:
The Irish might have played gamely without Harangody, but they play better with him. Notre Dame looked tentative and tight early in the game. Enter Harangody. The senior ignited the Irish in the first half, scoring 15 points and adding nine rebounds before the break. He finished with 20 points and 10 boards and looked about as healthy as a body can look. He spun around flat-footed Seton Hall post players, hit the sky for rebounds and hustled down the court.
While Harangody provided an off-the-bench spark, the Pirates’ reserves didn’t have a pulse. Jamel Jackson’s late, banked-in 3-pointer represented the Pirates’ bench scoring in its entirely. Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope did all the hevy lifting, scoring 39 of the Pirates’ paltry 56 points.
The Irish will play Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. Ordinarily I’d say that’s a tough matchup for Notre Dame. The Panthers play scrappy, in your face defense, something the high-flying Irish aren’t terribly comfortable with. Except ND started its improbable run with a 68-53 pummeling of the Panthers, so who’s to say that the team riding some sort of early St. Patty’s Day Luck of the Irish can’t duplicate the miracle?