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March 11, 2010To think that Notre Dame would be better off without its star was a preposterous notion.
To confess that the Fighting Irish played some of their best basketball in the star's absence was an obvious acknowledgement.
To think that Notre Dame would not need the star to advance in the Big East tournament was shortsighted.
All three concepts met up on the Madison Square Garden basketball floor Wednesday night, and Luke Harangody put things back in the order they were intended.
Thrust into the lineup just 3:15 into the game after Carleton Scott was whistled for his second foul, Harangody scored 15 of Notre Dame's 28 first-half points and grabbed nine of its 25 first-half rebounds to provide the spark the Irish needed in a 68-56 victory in second-round action of the Big East tournament Wednesday night.
Seton Hall, the darling of the pre-Big East tournament speculation and a popular choice to pull off a second-round upset, was trampled underfoot.
"The microwave was ready to go," said Irish head coach Mike Brey, using an old reference to former Detroit Piston Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench.
"It's not anything anybody in this room hasn't seen, and we knew we were going to need that. We didn't really need it as much in Milwaukee (against Marquette), and maybe he wasn't quite ready to do all that after just a practice-and-a-half.
"But we had three good practices, and I think he is back in his rhythm at a very key time."
Playing with a bounce in his step that was missing four days earlier in his return from a five-game absence due to a hyper-extended right knee, Harangody finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, giving the Irish their third straight double-double from the "four" position.
In the two previous games against Connecticut and Marquette, it was Scott who provided the numbers. And despite the foul trouble and limited minutes (19), Scott still came back to score eight points and grab five rebounds (seven for the game) to offer a significant one-two punch from that spot.
As for the notion that the Irish were better off without Harangody - a popular theory that not only pervaded Notre Dame fandom, but members of the national media - the three-time first-team all-Big East selection shot it out of the water.
"I felt like my old self out there," said Harangody, who maintained an outside shot at moving into the No. 1 spot on Notre Dame's all-time scoring list by pulling within 111 points of Austin Carr.
"The biggest part is that I'm starting to get my legs back, and that's huge. Against Marquette, you could tell my legs were a little heavy. But now, I feel great running the court. I feel like my old self."
The practice sessions between the Marquette game Saturday and the Seton Hall game Wednesday gave Harangody the confidence that he was back to his old form.
"I've gotten my conditioning up and my mind back into what we're trying to do out there," Harangody said. "Every day, I got a little better.
"When you're out for four weeks and in street clothes, and you don't know whether you're going to come back or not, you think it's over. Your mind kind of wanders. Then, when you're back in there, you're kind of like a freshman all over again. Now, I just feel very confident."
Any bitterness Harangody may have felt toward talk that the Irish were better without him had long since subsided. But recognizing his intensity and desire to prove his critics wrong, it was easy to spot the seething below the surface that he must have experienced.
"It motivates me," Harangody said. "I think people who say things like that really don't know the game. It's kind of hard to hear those things when you're injured and you can't really do anything about it. But you've got to deal with it. It's reality, it's life, and you just try to let it motivate you."
Harangody says that Notre Dame's strong performance in his absence is more of a reflection of other players stepping up as opposed to being better off without him.
"There's no question they played well (without me)," Harangody said. "They played great. A lot of people stepped up. Their confidence level went up. I just think we need to give more credit to them."
Wednesday night, most of the credit belonged to Luke Harangody, the All-American, the physical force, and the leader - along with Tory Jackson - of the Fighting Irish.
South Carolina NEWS