Tuesday, February 12, 2008

One "flu" over the Eagles nest: Cold Irish survive Marquette 86-83

You're Coach Mike Brey and it's Saturday, the day of your big rematch with your dreaded Big East rival Marquette. Not only did they annihilate you 92-66 in your last loss nearly a month ago, they were also the last team to beat you here, 34 games and nearly two years ago. So naturally you want, you need everything to be perfect to defeat the 16th ranked Golden Eagles, and preserve your long Notre Dame home-winning streak ... only to hear a knock at your door.

What's that? Three of my starters have the flu? Zach Hillesland, Rob Kurz, and ...

"Oh, no!"

Not Harangody!!!

And yet, that being the case, it only makes Notre Dame's 86-83 triumph all the more remarkable. For certainly during this long winning streak, the Irish have had their share of close calls. But never were the fans' cheers and prayers more necessary to bring their ill heroes home safely to victory.

The never-ending energy and constant noise of Notre Dame's famed home fans, along with the inspired play of Tory (Jackson, 14 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) and super-sub Luke Zeller (11 points including a monster dunk) were enough to stake the Irish to a 10-point halftime lead. And when Jackson's twisting turning lay-up with just over six to play put the Irish up by 13, no doubt some of Notre Dame's rabid rooters thought this one was over.

Not even close.

For finally, the adrenaline had worn off, the infirm trio were turning as green as the leprechaun's uniform, and Coach Brey seeing the Irish ouside shots no longer falling, called a time out.

"Let's just shoot free throws, guys," was Brey's advice.

"At Notre Dame we are halfway smart," said stellar student Zeller. "So we can add up, and trading 2-for-2 is alright."

Of course for Brey's simple strategy to work, two things had to happen. First, the Irish would have to get fouled, and then they would have to make their foul shots.

And THAT the Irish did, going 10-for-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch. Harangody, who despite the flu, shored only two under his average (18 points, plus 11 rebounds) and made the last four, and when Marquette's three-point attempt at the buzzer fell short, Notre Dame, despite not making a single field goal since Jackson's lay-up, survived.

Wednesday the now 18th ranked Irish play the 17th ranked UConn Huskies in another battle of Big East titans. Notre Dame is now just 1/2 game behind the Georgetown Hoyas for first place in the conference race, but with only two more home court contests to go, the Irish need to get healthy to maintain their lofty spot atop the standings. But for one day anyway, prayers, cheers—and free throws—were enough.

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