ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP)—Notre Dame accomplished one goal. Now, it can focus on bigger prizes, like winning the conference tournament and maybe making an NCAA run.
Luke Harangody scored 24 points, Rob Kurz added 21, and the No. 17 Fighting Irish hung on to beat DePaul 98-91 Sunday and clinch a first-round bye in the Big East tournament.
“In a league like this, that’s a great accomplishment,” Harangody said. “We put a lot of work into that.”
The Fighting Irish shook off a 90-85 loss at Louisville on Thursday that all but dashed their hopes for winning the regular-season title, building a 47-31 halftime lead and starting the second with a 13-2 run that made it 60-32.
Then, things got interesting.
DePaul pulled within seven late in the game, and leading the way was freshman Dar Tucker, who scored a career-high 28 points.
His 3-pointer and two free throws pulled DePaul within 84-76 with 4:37 left, and he answered a layup by Harangody with another 3 that made it 86-79 with 3:34 to go. The Blue Demons’ Jabari Currie drove for a layup that made it 90-83 with just over 2 minutes left, but a spinning shot in the lane by Notre Dame’s Tory Jackson and two free throws by Kyle McAlarney made it an 11-point game and ended the tension.
“It feels unbelievable to be in the position we’re in and playing the way we’re playing,” Kurz said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to keep getting better and carry the momentum we have.”
Harangody, coming off a 40-point performance against Louisville, had another good outing. The Big East’s top scorer and second-leading rebounder hit 11 of 18 shots while grabbing nine rebounds.
Kurz went 8-for-14 from the field and hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, while the Fighting Irish (22-6, 12-4) shot 56 percent overall and hit 13 of 23 from long range. No surprise, considering they lead the league in 3-point accuracy.
“If you look at the percentages of how we use the 3-point shot, we don’t use it in the top eight or nine in the league,” coach Mike Brey said. “We drive it, do stuff around the basket, and we play inside-out. So your percentages are that we’re going to be able to score the basketball.”
The game was the first of three this week against teams near the bottom of the conference, with a home matchup against St. John’s and a trip to South Florida closing out the regular season. With a favorable schedule, Notre Dame has a chance to build some momentum and boost its NCAA seeding.
DePaul (10-18, 5-11) just hopes to make the conference tournament.
Mac Koshwal had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Demons, who suffered their ninth loss in 10 games and fell into a tie with St. John’s for the Big East’s 12th and final spot. They finish with games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Just over a year ago, the Fighting Irish left Allstate Arena with a 67-66 loss and shaky NCAA hopes. This time, there was little drama—until the latter stages.
“From the get-go, we’ve kind of bounced around a little bit trying to understand who we are, what we can do well,” DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. “I feel where we good about where we’re headed. We have to get better; we just have to get better.”
And getting better means getting bigger, he said. With more size, maybe, DePaul will establish itself in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.
“It’s a very unforgiving league,” Brey said. “As (former commissioner) Dave Gavitt said last year, it’s not for the feint of heart. Getting up there and staying there is very difficult, and that’s what I like about our regular-season consistency.”