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Men’s Basketball: Irish hold off UConn

Chris Khorey | Sunday, January 6, 2008

Notre Dame had just lost a 21 point lead and its point guard had a welt the size of a golf ball obscuring the vision in his right eye.

But none of that stopped Kyle McAlarney.

With his team clinging to a 69-67 lead, the junior guard got into the lane and put in the final basket of a 32-point performance, giving his team a four point lead and, 30 seconds later, a 73-67 win over Connecticut Saturday night at the Joyce Center.

“I can’t stop smiling,” McAlarney said. “That was a great win on our home court.”

Playing in front of a raucous crowd, McAlarney shot 13-for-19 from the field, including 6-for-7 from behind the three point arc.

“You hit a few early, then you feel good the rest of the game,” he said.

Notre Dame (12-2, 2-0 Big East) jumped out to an early 22-6 lead behind 11 early points from the junior and extended its lead to 43-22 with 4:38 left in the first half.

But Irish coach Mike Brey said he never felt his team had the game in hand.

“I never thought, as well as we played in the first half, that we had put them away,” Brey said. “I knew they would come back.”

Just before halftime, with his team leading 47-32, Irish sophomore point guard Tory Jackson took a flying elbow from Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet and suffered a cornea abrasion.

Jackson played the entire second half, chalking up four assists and hitting two big free throws with just over one minute left – despite the fact that his cheek was so swollen he couldn’t see out of his right eye.

“If I could see through one eye, I could play,” Jackson said.

With Jackson playing through blurry vision, the Huskies (10-3, 1-1 Big East) made a run after halftime, outscoring the Irish 18-5 over the first eight minutes to pull within two at 52-50.

Notre Dame responded with five straight points of its own to push the lead back to seven, but the Huskies went on another run, this time 8-0, taking the lead 58-57 with 6:25 remaining on a layup by forward Jeff Adrian.

The Irish took the lead right back on a tip in by junior Zach Hillesland, but Connecticut tied it back up with a free throw by forward Jeff Adrian.

Three minutes later, with the score tied at 61, Notre Dame finally woke up from its second half doldrums, getting back-to-back three pointers from McAlarney and senior forward Rob Kurz.

Kurz, the team’s captain, said the Irish never panicked as the lead slipped away.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” he said. “The worst way to lose a game is to play tentative.”

Even after the threes, the Huskies wouldn’t die, getting back to within two at 69-67 on a pair of free throws by guard Jerome Dyson with 1:03.

On the ensuing possession, McAlarney hit the shot to put his team up by four. Two free throws by junior Ryan Ayers sealed the win for the Irish.


-The win was Notre Dame’s 10th straight overall. The Irish also extended their school-record winning streak at the Joyce Center to 30 consecutive games.

-Led by Thabeet, who had 10 blocks, Connecticut tied a Joyce Center record for blocks by an Irish opponent with 12.

Thabeet also held Notre Dame’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Luke Harangody, to 5-for-23 shooting from the field. Harangody did manage 14 points.

-Notre Dame hit nine of its 17 three point shots, while the Huskies made just two in the same number of attempts.

-After a week off, the Irish travel to Milwaukee next Saturday for their first conference road game, a tussle with Marquette.