If there was any doubt, Luke Harangody erased them in the first few minutes of last Saturday's game. He put forth an incredible effort in the five-point loss, and he still wasn't at full strength.
In fact, he wasn't around 80-85 percent healthy. During timeouts and stops in play, he was really working hard to catch his breath.
LaPhonso Ellis had pneumonia three times and talked about it on the radio broadcast. Your stamina is basically shot, and what Luke did against the Buckeyes—25 points and 16 rebounds—was amazing. Right now, no one can stop this guy, which bodes well for the Irish.
The rest of the team, however, did not play very well at all. Nobody was happy with the way they played, and it was not at all near the way I think they could play. Yet with 28 seconds left in the game, it was still a one-point contest after being down by as many as 10.
Ohio State, not ranked at the time, is a very talented team with a couple of young McDonald's All-Americans. They just beat a ranked Miami squad on the road and played with nothing to lose. That was abundantly apparent from their tenacious defense.
The Buckeyes' 1-2-2 zone was so active that I wasn't sure if they were in zone or man defense. That's how effective it was against the Irish. OSU's players are long, quick, and played together as a team. They also effectively took Kyle McAlarney out of the game, as none of the other Notre Dame players stepped up. Ohio State deserved to win this game.
But if you could trade this lesson for an important Big East conference game in January or February, I'll take it. It's better to get these tough goings out of the way now so they can be prepared in the next months ahead.
What Saturday's game came down to was physical and mental toughness. The Irish weren't tough enough on the boards on either end of the court. They have to be more physical, tougher at getting rebounds off the glass and getting to loose balls. That's probably the biggest thing that came out of this game—and it's something Coach Brey said after the game to his team.
If they don't show up rebounding tough and executing better on offense, then they're just an average team. They need to do those two things to be a good team now and later down the line.
Even though he had a rough go at the beginning of the game, Tory Jackson remains the heart of this team. He's the one that makes them go by being a leader and becoming more vocal on the court. He personally had the last 11 of the Irish's 12 points. Jackson was the one that brought them back to within one by connecting on several three-point buckets.
Tory has to be on his game and has to be confident. This was the first time I'm seen him make two, back-to-back mistakes since his first game he played after McAlarney was suspended two seasons ago. I've never seen him go into a funk like he did on Saturday.
That has to be a learning experience for him too. He has to be the leader on the floor, as well as through his actions. He emotionally charges them up with his play. He's done it well to this point, and I know he'll do it again. I'm pretty sure he's already addressed it since.
I'm definitely not pinning this loss on Tory, because his numbers weren't that bad: 13 points, five assists, a couple of steals, and three turnovers (two in a span of 30 seconds that changed the momentum of the game).
Notre Dame has to realize that they are no longer under the radar by any means. They have made a living out of exceeding expectations. Well, when you're a Top 10 team, and when those expectations are awfully high, you don't sneak up on anyone.
Ohio State was ready and played their game to perfection. They're going to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten, especially if they can keep that pressure zone and play that 1-2-2 zone defense to perfection.
I'm glad Notre Dame got to play at Lucas Oil Stadium and get that big-time atmosphere out of the way. First of all, it is a massive building. The ceiling is so high that it is one of the biggest buildings that I've ever been in. That fact that it is not round, but rectangular, makes it even bigger.
Because the Midwest Regional is there, as well as other Regionals being played in these big facilities, I'm glad the Irish got this one under their belts.
Now the Irish can regroup and get the kinks out the next few games before they face DePaul in Chicago on New Year's Eve.