Notre Dame won it’s third straight NIT game on Wednesday night to advance the Final 4 of the NIT next week in New York. The Irish held off a late Kentucky comeback attempt to win 77-67 in front of the first good sized crowd at the Joyce Center for the NIT and have earned a Final 4 matchup with Penn State on March 31.
Luke Harangody started off the game on a tear and finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds – his nation leading 24th 20-10 game of the season. Kyle McAlarney, playing his last home game of his career, scored 15 points while Ryan Ayers used some hot three point shooting to score 14 points in his last home game as well.
Tyrone Nash made a case for a starting spot once again with a much better game than starter Zach Hillesland in fewer minutes. Nash scored just 2 points, but chipped in 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in just 18 minutes. Hillesland meanwhile failed to score a single point (or even take a single field goal attempt) while adding just 2 rebounds and an assist in 24 minutes. Nash gives the Irish much more athleticism and more production when he is on the floor yet continues to only be used off of the bench.
Jonathan Peoples continues to make a case for more playing time as well. Peoples scored 6 points and picked up 2 steals in only 8 minutes on the court. Peoples has played very well throughout the NIT and is looking like a very capable starting guard for next year’s team with Kyle McAlarney graduating.
The last time the Irish visited Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final 4 came in 2000 when first year head coach Matt Doherty took Notre Dame the final against Wake Forest. Notre Dame lost the game and Doherty left South Bend after just one season to become the head coach at North Carolina.
Notre Dame can make the best of a bad situation next week with two more wins, but seeing the Irish handle Kentucky from start to finish only serves as a reminder of the potential this team had. With Wednesday night’s victory, the Irish improved to 21-14 on the season. Two more wins would give Notre Dame 23 which would be the 4th best season total under Mike Brey. Unfortunately one more loss will also give Notre Dame the most single season losses under Brey as well.