Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Day After: Notre Dame 74, BU 67

OK, more like three days after, but it's taken a while for us to settle in after the 14+ hour car ride back from South Bend. Still, what an experience.

It's fairly safe to assume that not many people expected the game to be as tightly contested as it was, not the least of whom was No. 12/13 Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who said that he told his team at halftime that the Terriers were a Big East caliber team. What BU accomplished in Saturday's 74-67 loss was about as impressive a feat since the team's last winning season in 2004-05. While the Terriers literally did everything they needed to do but actually win the game, it was really the effort and energy put forth by BU that mattered most.

From the tip-off, BU looked as though they could hang with the Fighting Irish. Nobody on the team appeared frightened and if intensity was a problem earlier in the season (mainly the four-point loss to Marshall), it shouldn't be any more. It was the kind of performance that can change a season and one that, presumably, the Terriers will be able to look back on for inspiration once conference play begins. In contrast to previous games where players let rebounds slip through their hands and weren't diving on the floor for loose balls, this game was different. BU appeared more powerful and aggressive than one of the more powerful and aggressive teams in the nation. Even Scott Brittain, who BU coach Dennis Wolff has been riding hard for being less forceful than he has in the past, was very assertive in the paint and had two big blocks, including one at the end of the half that preserved BU's seven-point lead.

One of the bright spots not mentioned in the Free Press' article (John Holland's start, Corey Lowe's second half, BU's rebounding and aggressiveness) was the play of Tyler Morris. Morris looked the best he has all season, if not close to the best he has in his career. He was feeling it from beyond the arc, but also completed nice drives to the bucket and was smart with the basketball. He picked up four steals compared to turning the ball over just once. While Morris said his performance had nothing to do with being back in his home state of Indiana, Wolff will be ecstatic if Morris can replicate his performance at the Joyce Center for the rest of the season.

The Terriers showed Saturday what they've been saying they're capable of over the past two seasons, and now that they've performed like that against such a formidable opponent, it will be harder to take losses should they happen to unranked teams -- especially America East teams. While this game by no means guarantees anything regarding how conference play will go (as Brey said, "College basketball, man"), there's little doubt it can only help improve BU's mindset and make the Terriers feel as though they can play with literally any team in the nation.

-- Mindset: BU could have easily been deterred by Notre Dame's 40-game winning streak at the Joyce Center prior to the game, as well as their national ranking and inside-outside combo in Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody. They weren't, though, and led for roughly 34 minutes of the game.
-- Tyler Morris' play: Can't stress enough how good he was in this game (not that Holland and Lowe weren't), but if he performs like this the rest of the way, the Terriers will be very difficult to beat.

-- Jeff Pelage's playing time: Wolff has had Pelage tested numerous times to fix what he calls a "phantom cough" that has been plaguing him for most of the season and hampered his ability to practice 100 percent, but the tests have yielded no results. Until Pelage stops coughing, or starts learning how to play through it so it doesn't effect the team, he'll remain on the bench.
-- Inability to win close games: Even though it was against a nationally ranked team, the Terriers still dropped another close contest. All four of BU's losses have been by less than 10 points and all have been close down the stretch. It's been a recurring theme with this group (inability to close games out) , but perhaps a new found confidence from their performance in South Bend will change that.

No such luck
Irish protect streak
Harangody's double-double helps Irish finish Terriers
Video: Free archived video of the game can be seen here

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