Final: Notre Dame (17-8, 6-6) 87, Seton Hall (13-9, 4-7) 90
-The only thing pretty about this one was the play of Jeremy Hazell. Simply unconscious the entire night, what can be said? Hazell had the best performance of the year and possibly his Seton Hall career finishing with 35PTS on an efficient 12-of-16 shooting, converting 8-of-11 from long distance. Fearless. Hazell once again, put his squad on his shoulders, repeatedly called for the ball and continuously delivered, drilling deep 3PT after deep 3PT. Hazell also played with an edge defensively, recording 4STL, none bigger than his interception of a Ben Hansbrough pass with 6:30 remaining and the Pirates up by 6 points. Final stat line: 35PTS/3REB/4STL/AST in a win-or-go-home (from the NIT) game will earn him the Gonzo Ball of the night year. Applaud, Jeremy "Bigg Game" Hazell for his performance tonight. Epic. Jay Williams described it best after Hazell hit his 8th 3PT of the night:
"I'm going to get some Popcorn, I feel like I'm watching an NBA game!"
-Welcome back Eugene Harvey. The senior stepped into his leadership role tonight and flourished for much of the game, falling just short of a double-double with 10PTS/9AST/REB/STL/TO. The Harvey detractors will note a pair of questionable drives towards the end of the game where he turned the ball over and failed to convert an open layup. Pay it no mind. Eugenius showed he deserves that starting PG spot, once and for all. Given he wants it. Reports early in the year stated that Gonzo tried to bring him back into the starting role, but Harvey said he felt more comfortable coming off the bench. Hopefully Harvey changes his tune, this squad needs him and needs him to play like he's capable of, as evidenced tonight. Exhibit A: Harvey calmly stepped to the line with the Pirates up 3 and 45 seconds to play and hit both FTs, something his teammates have struggled to figure out all season. Pressure FTs? Put it in the senior's hands. JT has shown promise and plays better defense than Eugene, but let's make one thing clear, Harvey is the floor general of this team. There just isn't the same offensive flow on the court with JT and Keon running point, opposed to Harvey.
-Jeff Robinson, continues to come into his own, he consistently hit his short range jumper tonight and finished with 14PTS on a smart selection of 7-of-10 shooting. He also added 4REB/AST, but was in foul trouble much of the night and when Bobby left him on the floor with 4, he fouled out with 4:45 remaining. To Bobby's defense, it was a silly foul by Jeff. Notre Dame's Tyrone Nash had all but secured the rebound off of a Pirates miss when JRob grabbed Nash's arm and pulled him to the floor in clear sight of the zebra. JRob then attempted to plead his case to the official. No dice. Valiant effort by JRob nonetheless. Impressive indeed, keep shooting (no 3's!).
-Herb Pope led all rebounders with 9, but only finished with 6PTS on 3-of-7 shooting. It's hard to get on him too much as the offense didn't run through him, it hardly does with Hazell on the floor. On a night like tonight, you can't complain and you've got to expect low numbers from Pope when Hazell is going bananas. Pope wasn't without contributions in this one as he finished with 6PTS/9REB/2STL/2BLK/AST, while limiting the ND game inside, especially in the 1st half. Pope helped hold Luke Harangody to just one made field goal in the first half, refusing to let him get any position in the post.
-Keon struggled shooting the rock again on 3-of-10 shooting, but otherwise, he did put forth a balanced game. Lawrence's legs looked thankful that he was left home from the Pitt trip as he was the lone member on the roster that didn't walk in snow. Kidding aside, he had an extra step in his game tonight and was quick defensively all night, including a block from behind on Hansbrough to start the 2nd half. Look, Keon has a ton to contribute to this team, he's our best perimeter and shadow defender, capable of taking our opposition's best option out of the game, or at least limiting them. We've seen him sky for rebounds and blocks this year, his athleticism is extremely apparent, the shot just isn't falling. Hopefully he gets that under control in the offseason, however, the rest of the way this year it's important that he doesn't continue to take 10 shots at a 30% clip, instead he should focus on distribution and defense. There's no question that this team has a spot for him on the roster, he just needs to realize what his role is right now. He finished with: 6PTS/5AST/4STL/BLK/TO
-Jordan Theodore, nursing a toe injury, played effectively while being limited to 17 minutes. JT finished with 9PTS/5AST/STL/2TO, as he had one of his better shooting nights of the season, finishing on 3-of-4 and even drilled one from long range. We've been yelling all year that the PG play needed to improve drastically and tonight, it was exceptional. If the trio continues to play at a high level, the Pirates will be able to string together a few consecutive wins. Consistency? Let's see it guys. Great job by the PGs tonight.
-Defense was optional again tonight. After allowing the Panthers to convert at a rate of 52% the Irish burned the Pirates at a rate of 54% from the floor! Luckily for The Hall, ND got the memo as well and allowed the Pirates to convert at 55%. With NBA All Star weekend approaching tomorrow, the two clubs put on a 3PT shooting contest of their own, hitting 22 between them. Seton Hall managed to win the turnover battle again tonight, something they've accomplished over the majority of Big East play. They forced ND into making 14TOs, while only committing 8TO themselves. It'd be too much to call it a well defended game, but it's impressive that the Pirates continue to show off some impressive ballhawking skills.
-Notre Dame's Mike Brey keeps a tight rotation! The five starters logged over 29 minutes for the Irish. If it weren't for Harangody leaving with 8 minutes left in the 2nd half, there probably would have only been one player on their bench with more than 10 minutes played. Speaking of Harangody, he was limited in the first half, where he only shot 1-of-5 and was unable to set anything up inside. In the second half, Harangody seemed to be heating up a bit recording 8PTS in a 5 minute span, before hyper-extendeding his knee, causing him to leave the game with 8 minutes left, never to return. I hope Harangody's going to be OK, it's his senior year, he's an absolute beast and on his way to Big East POY and AP POY consideration, there's no way I want to watch him finish his collegiate career on the bench.
-The Pirates made it a point to limit Harangody and Abromaitis and they did just that. Sure, Abro finished with 18PTS, but it was on 2-of-7 shooting, while he was a flawless 12-of-12 from the stripe. Tory Jackson stepped up for the Irish, putting forth the game of his career finishing with 25PTS (career high) and 6AST, however it must be mentioned that he hurt his team quite a bit with 6TO, many in the 2nd half with the Irish trailing.
-The Pirates tried their best to blow this one in the final 30 seconds, but I don't want to harp on it too much tonight. It must be mentioned that Herb Pope was left on the floor in an identical situation that burned the team already this season. With the Pirates leading by 3 and 34 seconds left the Irish called timeout. Perfect opportunity for Bobby to remove Pope from the game and put in someone who can shoot FTs. Except he didn't. Mike Brey, did what any logical coach in the Big East would do and doubled Harvey and Hazell, forcing an inbounds pass by Stix to prevent a 5 second violation. Unfortunately, Pope was the Pirate that came free and was immediately fouled. I understand if Bobby is worried that Pope's defense would be missed on these critical possessions down the stretch, but if he insists on leaving him out there at least let him inbound the ball. You can guess what happened next, Pope missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving ND a chance to tie on their next possession. Luckily they missed, Keon rebounded and headed to the line for his own one-and-one before missing that as well. Notre Dame was able to get off 2 clean 3PT attempts in the final 18 seconds, including a try from the 50% shooting Abromaitis, but came up short. I'm sure every Seton Hall fan had their heart briefly stutter as Abro's attempt rimmed out. Keon couldn't secure the rebound and Hansbrough made a brilliant attempt while running out of bounds to find Scott in the corner for another 3PT game-tying shot, fortunately, that attempt fell short as well.
It wasn't the prettiest of games, however, Hazell's performance absolutely outweighed the negatives on display tonight. Seton Hall will live to fight another day or... play another basketball game. The season hasn't been pretty and the losing hasn't made it that fun, but it's been damn exciting. Win or lose, this team doesn't know boring basketball and I fully expect the final 7 games to keep us just as entertained. As always, Let's Go Hall!
...Much more to come in tomorrow's day after post.