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March 10, 2010NEW YORK - Shall we dance?
Although there didn't appear to be any doubt that Notre Dame (22-10) already had earned a spot in the NCAA tournament, the Irish made the point completely moot Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden with a convincing 68-56 victory over Seton Hall (19-12) in second-round action of the Big East tournament.
And since the Irish are dancing, make no mistake about it; it's a slow, methodical dance, right out of an era gone by.
After falling behind 11-2, the Irish held Seton Hall to just 10 points over the final 15 minutes of the first half, quickly built a double-digit early in the second half and then sailed past the Pirates, 68-56, for their fifth straight victory - the longest current streak in the conference.
It was sweet music for the Irish after watching Seton Hall run up and down the court with Providence the night before in a 109-106 victory to advance to second-round action. The Irish controlled each possession, used the shot clock, and took the Pirates out of their element.
"Given how they played last night with 55 points at half and 109 for the game, and given how they beat us in Newark when they scored 55 in a half, if we could impose our style of play, we could beat them, and we certainly did that," said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
"We really limited our possessions. It was our tempo."
Luke Harangody, who missed five games with a knee injury and played sparingly four days earlier in an overtime victory over Marquette, came off the bench to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds - 15 points and nine rebounds of which came in the first half after Carleton Scott picked up his second foul just 3:15 into the game.
"The most important three days of practice for us were Sunday, Monday and Tuesday because we could get Luke back in a better rhythm," Brey said. "We're changing as a team here even in March. He gave us a great lift."
For Harangody, it was sweet redemption for those who hinted that perhaps the Irish were better without him in the lineup. All it took was a little bit of confidence in himself that he could play without any physical limitations.
"The last couple of days in practice have been great for me, just to get my conditioning back up and to get back in the flow," Harangody said. "I hit a couple of early buckets, which was great for my confidence.
"In the Marquette game, my confidence wasn't at a good level. I'm starting to get back a little of my swagger that I had before the injury. I had a little more confidence, and it felt great to be out there with the guys."
The Irish needed Harangody's spark after quickly falling behind by nine. Harangody scored two quick buckets and sparked a 13-4 run to tie the game at 15.
Notre Dame's second surge came with 4:45 left when Tory Jackson made a diving save along the sideline. Harangody picked it up, drove to the basket, scored and was fouled.
From that point on, it was all Notre Dame en route to a 28-21 halftime lead and a double-digit advantage for all but a few seconds of the second half.
"It's only fitting that our two seniors were involved in that play," Brey said. "I see (Jackson) dive and (Harangody) finishes the three-point play. That's kind of who these two guys have been. They've been big-time winners."
Notre Dame also got the job done on the defensive end, and benefited from some Seton Hall foul trouble as well. Five minutes after Scott picked up his second foul, 6-foot-8, 235-pound Herb Pope was whistled for his second foul.
Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez would have preferred to keep Pope sidelined for the rest of the first half. But with the Irish snagging nine offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes, Gonzalez had no choice but to get Pope back in the game.
"I felt like I had to (put him) in, otherwise we might be down by 15 at half," Gonzalez said. "We couldn't get a rebound, so when I put Herb back in, it was basically to try to save us from going under water."
The move didn't work. Pope picked up his third foul with 2:30 left in the first half and would score what amounted to 14 inconsequential points to go with nine rebounds.
The Irish also contained Seton Hall's leading scorer, Jeremy Hazell, by limiting him to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting, including just 1-of-9 from three-point range. It was a far cry from the 35 points that Hazell tossed in a month earlier against the Irish.
Jackson, who finished with 13 points, took charge to start the second half, nailing a three-pointer and then a penetration bucket to put the Irish up 35-21 at the 17:45 mark. Notre Dame's largest lead was 15 points. Seton Hall cut it to nine at the 9:33 mark. But once Scott put the Irish up by double digits on a slam dunk with 8:33 remaining, it never dipped back down to single digits.
Brey couldn't help but take a moment to scoff at the notion that the Irish needed a victory over Seton Hall in the Big East tournament to secure an NCAA tournament berth.
"How about this being promoted as a play-in game," said a sarcastic Brey. "Come on. For us? Come on.
"And you know what? For right now, nobody is going to talk about Seton Hall, but just give it a few days. Keep Seton Hall on the board. Right now, everybody knee jerks. But give it two days and come back and look at the big picture."
Any way you look at the big picture, the Irish are in the mix. If there truly was any doubt, Harangody, Jackson et al rendered that conversation meaningless.
But Harangody didn't want to hear about the NCAA talk just yet.
"It's been great to be part of this run," Harangody said. "As of right now, we're excited about that kind of talk. But I think we're more excited about playing a great Pittsburgh team (Thursday) night.
"Coach talked to us the past week about how Notre Dame hasn't done a lot of damage in the Big East tournament. Me and Tory as seniors want to go out that way."
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