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January 3, 2008Luke Harangody earned it.
Draining his first seven shots on Thursday night against West granted the Irish sophomore some shooting capital, meaning few raised an eyebrow when the bruising and eventually bloodied Harangody clanged a three-pointer moments before intermission.
"I guess that was a little bit of a heat check," laughed Kyle McAlarney. "I don't know what his percentage is now."
For the record it's stuck on zero for two career attempts.
Yet that's the only Harangody stat with such a depressing description after Notre Dame's 69-56 Big East opening victory over West Virginia at the Joyce Center, the team's 29th straight there. Harangody posted career bests with 29 points and 16 rebounds, plus a few spots of blood blotching up his shorts.
He might lead the Big East in floor burns too.
"Probably," Harangody smiled.
Even with the game in hand as trainers applied disinfectant to his uniform, Harangody begged Brey for more minutes. He'd earned them, playing through a back tweak early in the second half and a few West Virginia elbows. The Mountaineers and new coach Bob Huggins had no answer for Notre Dame's beast in the post.
"There's no one as physical as him. He's like a bear down there," McAlarney said. "Teams just aren't ready for it because no big guy plays as hard as he does. They think he's almost like a bull but then they're shocked by his touch around the basket."
Harangody scored six of his game-high total during a 22-6 first half run that saw Mike Brey rediscover his old point guard in McAlarney after Tory Jackson picked up a quick second foul. The junior, making his first conference start after missing the entire Big East slate last year because of suspension, finished with nine assists and a modest seven points.
"I think people sometimes label me as a shooter and forget that I'm a point guard at heart," McAlarney said. "That's something that's kind of my natural position. I love to run the team and tell people where to go. I was just having fun out there."
Harangody's bruising style and McAlarney's controlled handling helped Notre Dame turn what figured to be a tight game into a rough welcome to the Big East for Huggins. The Irish defense, which held the Mountaineers to 5-of-25 from three-point range, didn't help either.
Leading scorer Alex Ruoff scored 18 points but needed 17 shots to get there. Forward Joe Alexander struggled more, scoring just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting with Zach Hillesland and Rob Kurz stuck to him.
"I was a little shocked we were able to take him that much out of his rhythm," Brey said. "This is the best defensive team we've had. They learned how to do it last year. Thank God we have a lot of these guys back."
That applies to Jackson too, even during an off night. After a scoreless afternoon earlier this week against North Florida and as many turnovers as points during the first half against West Virginia, Jackson asserted himself early in the second half with back-to-back three-pointers that made Huggins double check his scouting report.
Jackson entered the game just 3-for-23 from distance this season. He finished with 12 points and four rebounds but also turned the ball over six times.
The quick strikes put the Irish up 47-34 with 14:33 left. That advantage swelled to 16 points a few minutes later. West Virginia never threatened again.
The victory's significance wasn't just in the result but how Notre Dame achieved it with Connecticut on tap for Saturday night. The Mountaineers (10-3) were the best opponent Notre Dame faced all season, but instead of grinding out the victory the Irish ran away with it.
"We can go on runs that just blow teams away but when we defend, that's what's really going to get us over the hump and get us these Big East win," McAlarney said. "We just came out and I think we kind of dominated them in that area of the game."