Short of turning the lights down low and tuning in some mood music for a group hypnotherapy session, Notre Dame is left with only one option concerning its free-throw woes on the road - start making them. For the second consecutive Big East road game - a 90-72 loss Wednesday at No. 3 Villanova - Notre Dame fell apart at the foul line. The Irish (15-6 overall; 4-4 Big East) missed seven free throws in the first half and trailed by one at intermission before shooting 63.3 percent (19-of-30) overall. “It was just one of those nights,” shrugged All-American power forward Luke Harangody, who was 5-of-9. “I don’t think anyone’s really concerned about that. “We’re a good foul-shooting team. At the end of practice, we’re always on it. You just go on and play another day.” In its previous league road game - Jan. 16 at Cincinnati - Notre Dame went 9-of-19 (47.4 percent) in a two-point loss. Following that game, Irish players talked of being uncomfortable with the type of ball - an adidas model - which the Bearcats use. The players believed it felt smaller than the Wilson ball that Notre Dame has used for years. Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Irish practiced with the same type of ball - a Nike - used by Villanova. Notre Dame also made sure to get extra shots at the foul line during its morning shoot-around at Wachovia Center. Notre Dame’s plan of driving the ball and making Villanova guard worked to near-perfection early. The Irish got into the bonus with the Wildcats’ seventh team foul just 8:22 into the game, but then missed six free throws. “You’ve got to capitalize there,” said coach Mike Brey. “We’ve been a better free-throw shooting team overall than we’ve showed in a couple key games. It’s really hurt us.” In its lone road win in league play - Jan. 5 at South Florida - Notre Dame held off a late rally by being good - really good - at the foul line. The Irish were 8-of-10 over the final 6:34 and finished 17-of-20 (85 percent). Notre Dame still ranks third in the league (70.9) in overall free-throw shooting but has slid to 10th (69.0 percent) in conference games. What can the Irish do differently to be better or address the foul-line shortcomings? Not much, said Brey. “I don’t think you can over-analyze it too much,” he said. “We’ve got guys that spend a lot of time in the gym. We may just spend a little more time getting reps up, especially at the visitors building. “We’re better than that.”
No easy nightNotre Dame’s opponent on Saturday often has been the last team in the league that Harangody wants to see. Harangody has played four career games against Rutgers and has never lost. But he is averaging 11.8 points per game, his lowest against any league opponent. Harangody has made only 19 of 71 shots (26.7 percent) from the floor. He faced the Scarlet Knights twice last season, and shot a combined 10-for-42 while double-teamed by the size and strength of Gregory Echenique and the length of Hamady Ndiaye. “I thought it was the two-headed monster that gave us success,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said Thursday. “Harangody (now) is just a very, very difficult matchup for us.” Ndiaye leads the league in blocked shots at 4.65 per game. But Echenique, expected to be a cornerstone to Hill’s rebuilding effort, suffered a season-ending eye injury in December. He then transferred to Creighton. Hill said that Ndiaye, who plays about 25 minutes a game, likely can’t play heavy minutes like Harangody. That means freshman Austin Johnson may have to help. “I’d like to use other guys,” Hill said. “Someone else is going to have to guard him.”
Monster matchupsThe Big East likes to bill itself as a league of no off-nights and the same is true for its point guards. Over the first eight league games, Irish senior Tory Jackson has been assigned to Sharaud Curry (Providence), Kemba Walker (Connecticut), Dominique Jones (South Florida), Darryl Bryant (West Virginia), Deonta Vaughn (Cincinnati), Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), Will Walker (DePaul) and Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher (Villanova). He’s also been asked to guard other guys who have gone off for big games in West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler and Andy Rautins of Syracuse. Jones, Vaughn, Reynolds, Fisher, Butler and Rautins all will make a run at first team all-league. “This is a guard’s game league,” Jackson said. It gets no easier Saturday when Jackson will be asked to shut down Rutgers sophomore Mike Rosario, one of the league’s top talents who gets little attention because he plays on a team still winless in conference play. Rosario leads Rutgers in scoring (15.3) but has struggled to make shots. He’s shooting 36.4 percent from the floor, 32.4 percent from 3. “Mike is a key guy for them,” Brey said.
- With a team-high 21 points against Villanova, Harangody has scored 1,236 in 60 career Big East games. At his current league scoring average of 25.0, Harangody will pass former Syracuse standout Lawrence Moten (1,405) during the Feb. 24 home game against No. 17 Pittsburgh and become the league’s all-time leading scorer.
- Senior tri-captain Jonathan Peoples, who had scored only three points on 1-of-14 shooting in six games after a career-high 23 in the league opener against Providence, had eight points on 3-of-7 from the floor in 25 minutes against Villanova.