Notre Dame 68, Seton Hall 56

With a healthy Luke Harangody back in top form, Notre Dame
stopped Seton Hall in its run-and-gun tracks to take another big
step toward the NCAA tournament.

Harangody had 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and the
Fighting Irish shut down Seton Hall’s high-octane offense for a
68-56 victory in the second round of the Big East tournament
Wednesday night.

“The microwave was ready to go tonight,” Notre Dame coach Mike
Brey said about the instant offense Harangody provided as a
reserve. “It was not anything anybody in this room hasn’t
seen.”

Tory Jackson added 13 points and six assists for the Fighting
Irish (22-10) in a game with significant NCAA implications. Notre
Dame, riding a five-game winning streak at just the right time,
plays second-seeded and No. 16 Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals
Thursday night.

The seventh-seeded Irish started their surge with 68-53 victory
over then-No. 12 Pittsburgh on Feb. 24.

Notre Dame improved to 6-14 in the Big East tournament and ended
a three-game winning streak for No. 10 seed Seton Hall (19-12),
which nearly blew a 29-point second-half lead before holding off
Providence 109-106 Tuesday night.

Unable to improve their resume this week, the Pirates must wait
until Sunday to find out if they’ve done enough to sneak into the
NCAAs.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, probably solidified its spot.

“There’s no doubt we can beat somebody if we go to the NCAA
tournament. No doubt. And especially with some rest,” Seton Hall
coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “I think we should be on the board. I
think all this talk about the bubble has burst and now we’re out
and we’re done and we lost and that’s it and it’s over, I don’t
think people know what they’re talking about. I don’t think they
have a clue. I think they listen to what everybody else says and
they repeat what they hear.”

Harangody, who entered as the nation’s second-leading scorer at
23.3 points per game, was injured in a 90-87 loss at Seton Hall on
Feb. 11. The senior forward missed five games with a badly bruised
right knee and the Irish lost the first two by a combined three
points before reeling off three straight surprising wins without
him.

He had five points and two rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench
Saturday in Notre Dame’s 63-60 overtime win at Marquette, but
looked much more like himself in this one.

“The last couple of days of practice have been great for me,
just to get back in the flow. Kind of get my conditioning back up
to where it has been,” Harangody said. “I feel right now that I
started to get a little bit of swagger I had before the injury, a
little more of the confidence. I feel great with the guys out
there.”

Harangody ran the floor well for fast-break dunks and scored
several easy baskets down low. After entering 3:15 into the game,
he finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in 15 first-half
minutes as Notre Dame turned an 11-2 deficit into a 28-21 lead at
the break.

“I think he is back in his rhythm at a very key time,” Brey
said.

With about 4:45 left in the half, Jackson dived toward the
sideline by press row and slapped a loose ball to a streaking
Harangody, who scored and drew a foul on the play. Fired up by his
own hustle, Jackson screamed in delight.

The Irish scored the first seven points of the second half, five
by Jackson, and never let up. With 11:37 to go, Ben Hansbrough
looked directly at his defender, Jordan Theodore, and said,
“C’mon, baby” before driving right by for a layup that gave Notre
Dame its largest lead, 44-28.

“It was our tempo,” Brey said.

Led by Harangody, selected to the all-Big East first team for
the third consecutive year, Notre Dame’s bench outscored Seton
Hall’s reserves 24-3.

Jeremy Hazell had 15 points for the Pirates, who needed
garbage-time baskets at the end to barely surpass the 55 points
they scored in the first half Tuesday night.

Seton Hall went 2 for 16 from 3-point range and fell 25 points
below its season average of 81.3 per game, which ranked fourth in
the Big East.

“Not an excuse, certainly, but I thought this was the most
tired I’ve seen our team the entire year,” Gonzalez said. “We
just didn’t have our legs. It shows how important the bye is and
how important the regular season is.”