NOTRE DAME, Ind.-Notre Dame turned Seton Hall's full-court, frantic attack into a hard-fought, well-earned 88-76 victory at the Joyce Center Sunday afternoon.
With senior tri-captain Colin Falls sidelined most of the second half with the stomach flu, Mike Brey turned to a pack of freshmen and sophomores-mixed in with senior Russell Carter and junior Rob Kurz-to withstand the quickness of a youthful Seton Hall team in its own right.
"Even when we were up 18 or 20, I never thought we'd get away from them because of their style of play," said Brey, whose squad upped its record in conference play to 3-1 to move into a tie for second place with Syracuse.
"They just keep coming at you. They made us look bad for a while."
Notre Dame's 21-point lead (72-51) with 10:53 remaining eventually shrunk to nine with just under five minutes to go. It seemed like it was closer than that because Seton Hall first-year head coach Bobby Gonzalez put five guards on the court down the stretch to create as much chaos as possible.
The Pirates, leading the Big East in steals with nearly 12 a game, finished with nine thefts and 15 forced turnovers to make it interesting.
"They just come at you in waves," said Kurz. "They've got so many quick guys and they're so athletic. Then they went to a small lineup and put so much pressure on us. I don't think we've played a team with that type of quickness."
But the Irish shot 53.4 percent from the field-51.5 in the first half and 56.0 in the second-while limiting Seton Hall to just 2-of-11 shooting from three-point range in the second half and 24.4 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes.
Minus Falls and suspended guard Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame's depth was severely tested. It passed with flying colors.
• Sophomore Zach Hillesland played 25 minutes and filled the stat sheet with 12 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive), and eight assists.
• Freshman Jonathan Peoples played the most extensive action of his career-19 minutes-and scored a career high nine points, including 2-for-2 from three point range with three assists.
• Fellow freshman point guard Tory Jackson worked solo as well as with Peoples at times, finishing with five assists and just two turnovers in 36 minutes of action.
• Sophomore Ryan Ayers, who has struggled with his shot all season, nailed both of his three-point attempts and logged 16 minutes of duty.
• Senior Russell Carter led all scorers with 24 points while snagging 10 rebounds.
• Kurz, the only upperclassmen on the court during a key stretch, added his workmanlike 15 points and nine rebounds. He and freshman Luke Harangody (12 points, five rebounds) provided an inside presence that Seton Hall is lacking.
"They're a hard team to guard offensively, even without McAlarney," Gonzalez said. "Everybody can shoot the ball.
"We tried hard to keep them at their average of 83 and they scored 88. We had tough match-ups with how skilled they are. It's no secret that we're thin inside.
"We've got to get more players. We've got to get better players."
Notre Dame's youth had nothing on the Pirates, who leaned heavily on freshmen Eugene Harvey (17 points) and Larry Davis (13). Seton Hall was paced by junior Brian Laing's 20 while classmate Jamar Nutter tossed in 16.
But down the stretch, when Notre Dame's lead went from 21 to nine, Laing was the tallest Pirate on the floor at 6-foot-5.
"We're using smoke and mirrors right now," Gonzalez said.
Leading just 44-41 at the 17:55 mark of the second half, the Irish out-scored the Pirates 28-10 over the next seven minutes to extend their lead to 21.
A pair of three-pointers by Ayers, a three-pointer by Peoples, and an alley-oop pass from Peoples to Carter sparked the surge.
"I thought it was a big, big night for Ayers and Peoples," Brey said. "With Falls (suffering from) the stomach virus, for them to step forward the way they did It's a big afternoon for them, just to feel even more a part of it."
"My conditioning is getting better," People said. "I haven't been getting tired at all. Coach told me once I got my conditioning up, I would get a lot more playing time, and tonight I did. I was just ready for anything."
The victory was Notre Dame's 15th straight victory at the Joyce Center, including13-0 at home this season.
Harangody was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this year, joining Jackson who was making his fifth start. The last time the Irish started two freshmen was in 2001-02 when Chris Thomas started all 33 games and Jordan Cornette started six.
Notre Dame travels to Villanova Wednesday night to take on the Wildcats (11-5, 1-3).