Notre Dame really found itself when it lost its best player. A little less than a month ago, Luke Harangody went down with a severely bruised knee that threatened his season and could have ruined the team's, too. Instead, the rest of the Irish found their way.
It appears that they have found their way into the NCAA Tournament. In a game that was billed as a pass/fail test for both sides, Notre Dame (22-10) shook off Seton Hall, 68-56, in a second-round Big East Tournament game last night at the Garden.
And it didn't hurt that Harangody was back and as dominant as ever. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds and looked spry enough to go dancing. Good timing. The win made it all but certain that his team will receive an invitation to the Big Dance.
"It would have been very hard to keep us out before tonight, with what we have," coach Mike Brey said. "You have to get away from numbers and computers. We're playing well."
Computers would not have predicted the Irish winning five in a row, four of those with Harangody playing not at all or a little. When the big man went down before a 69-68 loss to St. John's on Feb. 14, Brey decided to remake his team on the fly. He chose to go dial-up instead of broadband, slowing the tempo. This was not easy for a team that has been used to racing, the way Seton Hall (19-12) likes to play.
"I thought he was crazy at first," said senior guard Tory Jackson, who had 13 points. "No, I kind of thought it was a good idea because it really helped me out as a player."
In Harangody's absence, Notre Dame found its stride by beating Pittsburgh - its opponent in the quarterfinals Thursday night - and Georgetown and Connecticut. He played only five minutes in a win at Marquette, which made Seton Hall wonder what it might see. The Pirates broke to an 11-2 lead. Coach Bobby Gonzalez, whose team appears headed to the NIT, said that the Pirates ran out of gas.
Possibly, but it also ran into Harangody. He entered 3:15 in and after a few minutes, started dominating. He looked as if he had spent a month in a spa with a soaring two-handed jam and a twisting layup during a 16-2 first-half burst (calling it a run would be exaggerating, speed-wise).
"The last couple of days of practice have been great for me, just to get back in the flow," Harangody said after his 64th career double-double. "I feel right now that I started to get a little bit of swagger I had before the injury."
Just as important, Brey pointed out that Carleton Scott and former All-Long Island player Tyrone Nash (Lawrence-Woodmere Academy) and other Notre Dame players have confidence they didn't have before Harangody went out.
Brey said, "I think you're seeing how we're changing as a team here, even in March."