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Notre Dame holds off South Florida

Mar 9, 2008 - 6:46 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Notre Dame had little to play for and it showed.

Luke Harangody scored 21 points and the 19th-ranked Fighting Irish regrouped after blowing most of a big second-half lead to turn back South Florida, 67-60, in the Big East Conference on Saturday night.

Rob Kurz added 14 points for Notre Dame (24-6, 14-4 Big East), which already had wrapped up a first-round bye in the conference tournament but clinched the No. 3 seed with the victory.

"That's an awfully good basketball team," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "They're real skilled; they shoot it they pass it and they're hard to guard. They can go on 10-0 runs just like that."

The Irish got more of a tussle than expected from the Bulls (12-19, 3-15), which closed the season with 15 losses in their final 17 games.

Notre Dame had an early burst in each half and seemingly was on the verge of a rout twice.

Harangody scored six points in a 16-6 run to open the second half and help the Fighting Irish stretch the advantage to 52-33 on a 3-pointer by Ryan Ayers with 15:55 to play.

South Florida stormed back with a 12-0 run, keyed by six points from Mobolaji Ajayi, to pull within 52-45 on a layup by Keith Gransberry.

"Not the way we wanted to go in the first 22 minutes, and what I'm very pleased about is the fact that, down 18 or 19, playing basically our championship game our postseason game, everything we have is today," Heath said. "I thought our guys just continued to fight."

After back-to-back baskets by Kurz and Kyle McAlarney restored the lead to double digits, the Bulls rattled off the next 10 points to slice the deficit to 56-55 on a layup by freshman Dominique Jones with 5:20 left. That capped a 22-4 run by South Florida, which beat Notre Dame, 69-63, here a year ago.

However, the comeback appeared to take its toll on the Bulls, who managed just one field goal over the next five minutes.

Chris Howard's jumper cut the lead to 60-58 with 3:07 to play, but Harangody answered with a layup nine seconds later and Notre Dame rode out the game at the free-throw line.

Harangody finished 9-of-13 from the floor and also had nine rebounds for Notre Dame.

"He's a great player," Gransberry said. "Coach said players are made not born. He's going to be the MVP of this league and hats off to him, he's a great player. He just works hard and gets the job done."

Jones scored 20 points to lead South Florida, which finished just 3-of-19 from the arc.

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    NOTRE DAME (19) 36 31 67

    Mar 8 8:52 PM

    (19) NOTRE DAME 36

    Mar 8 7:49 PM
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