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Men’s Basketball: Back at the JACC

Chris Khorey | Thursday, January 31, 2008

It seems like Notre Dame’s home winning streak has been stuck on 31 games for a long time.

The Irish (14-4, 4-2 Big East) haven’t played a home game since their 91-74 win over Cincinnati Jan. 15, but they have a chance to win their 32nd straight at the Joyce Center tonight against Providence at 7.

“It feels like we haven’t been home in a while,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I think that will energize us.”

Notre Dame, currently in second place in the Big East, is 1 1/2 games behind conference leader Georgetown. The team is coming off a 90-80 win at then-No. 18 Villanova last Saturday.

The victory, which was the first conference road win for the Irish, featured a lineup shift. Brey inserted junior forward Zach Hillesland into the starting lineup in place of junior Ryan Ayers.

The switch paid off. Hillesland had four assists, six rebounds and a momentum-changing dunk, while Ayers scored 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench, including hitting two of his three 3-point attempts.

Brey said he will keep the new lineup for the foreseeable future, including tonight’s game against the Friars, because Hillesland’s quickness makes the Irish harder to defend.

“There’s a little different feel with me and [point guard] Tory [Jackson] both driving and trying to kick it to shooters,” Hillesland said.

Ayers said coming off the bench forced him to make better use of his time on the floor.

“It made me a little more aggressive,” he said. “It gave me a little more edge.”

But the junior hasn’t ruled out starting again later this season.

“I want to keep working hard and maybe get back into the starting lineup if I can,” he said.

Most of Notre Dame’s scoring against the Wildcats came from two familiar faces. Junior guard Kyle McAlarney, who poured in 30 last Saturday, is averaging 18.2 points per game in Big East play and was awarded the conference’s player-of-the-week award for his performance.

“He’s a big part of things,” Brey said of McAlarney. “His confidence and his aggressiveness can jumpstart us sometimes.”

Lost in McAlarney’s success last Saturday was the play of sophomore forward Luke Harangody, who scored 25 points. The 6-foot-8 Harangody, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, has been especially effective against smaller centers.

Providence will probably guard Harangody with forward Randall Hanke. At 6-foot-11, Hanke will have a height advantage on the Irish big man, but he will not have quite the advantage that 7-footers Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut and Roy Hibbert of Georgetown had when they slowed Harangody earlier this month.

The Friars get most of their scoring from their guards, four of whom average double-figure points per game. Their leading scorer is junior Jeff Xavier, who averages 13.1 points per game.

At 12-7 and 3-4 in the conference, Providence is in a tie for 11th in the Big East.

But they beat third-place Connecticut on the road on Jan. 17, so Brey is taking nothing for granted.

“We’re not looking past Providence,” Brey said. “They beat Connecticut, who’s the hottest team in our league.”


u Harangody was named one of the top-30 candidates for the 2008 Naismith Award, college basketball’s most prestigious player-of-the-year honor.

u Tonight’s game is “Camo Night.” Free camouflage T-shirts will be handed out to the entire lower bowl of the Joyce Center.

At halftime, Notre Dame will honor Sgt. First Class John Adams, who has recently been named one of the United States Army’s “Real Heroes.” A video about Brey’s trip to Kuwait over the summer for Operation Hardwood will be shown.

u As part of ESPN’s “Student Spirit Week,” ESPN2 will feature the Leprechaun Legion during coverage of the game.