As Notre Dame reeled off season-saving win after season-saving win without injured star Luke Harangody to close the regular season, a once-unthinkable question surfaced in the minds of fans of the Fighting Irish.
Could Notre Dame actually be better without Harangody?
We now know the answer to that question is an emphatic "no" after watching Harangody lead the Irish to their biggest win of the season on Wednesday night. In just his second game back from a bone bruise in his right knee. Harangody came off the bench to score 20 points and grab 10 boards in 24 minutes, propelling Notre Dame to a 68-56 victory over Seton Hall that removed any remaining doubt that the Irish are at-large-worthy.
If this victory brought sweet relief for Notre Dame, it will mean four anxious days for Seton Hall. The Pirates played their way into at-large consideration largely by winning the games they were supposed to this season, but they needed another marquee victory over a team like the Irish to feel comfortable at all about their chances.
Seton Hall seemed to have a great chance to get that victory until Harangody checked into the game four minutes into the first half with tentative-looking Notre Dame already down 9-2. The senior ignited the Irish with his scoring, rebounding and hustle, posting 15 points and nine rebounds before the break to help give his team a 28-21 lead that it never relinquished.
With the Irish now safely in the field, take a few seconds to reflect on what they've done to get there.
After a Feb. 17 loss to Louisville, Notre Dame had an injured star, a 6-8 record in Big East play and no marquee wins besides a home victory over West Virginia in early January. Now the Irish have rattled off wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Connecticut, Marquette and Seton Hall, a five-game win streak impressive enough that it might vault the Irish all the way to an eight or nine seed.
You can credit coach Mike Brey for slowing down the tempo, getting his team to work for better shots and better masking Notre Dame's defensive inadequacies. You can credit Harangody's co-stars Tim Abromaitis, Ben Hansbrough and Carleton Scott for shouldering more of the scoring load now that they couldn't simply stand around after dumping it inside.
Just don't attribute Notre Dame's success to Harangody's absence. We learned today that with a healthy Harangody and an improved supporting cast, the Irish are more dangerous than ever.