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Home streak a source of pride, motivation

Chris Hine | Monday, November 24, 2008

When Tory Jackson was reminded that he, Luke Harangody and Jonathan Peoples have yet to lose a game in the Joyce Center entering their junior years at Notre Dame, he looked around for a piece of wood.

“Luke Harangody, Jonathan Peoples and I talk about that a lot,” the junior guard said after he knocked on a wooden table. “Our class, the junior class. We talk about it a lot … We kept it going our freshman year and now it’s junior year and it’s a nice accomplishment, but hopefully we can get out of here with it and at least I’ll have something to say over some of the other players.”

For Jackson and the rest of the Irish, the team’s 38-game winning streak at home, the second longest such streak in the country, is a source of pride and serves to motivate the Irish at home, especially in close contests.

“It’s been going on for so long that it’s kind of meshed in with everything else,” senior forward Zach Hillesland said. “It’s not something that we put extra emphasis on, but at the same time, we really sit back and think about it and it’s something we’re proud of and would like to see continue as long as possible.”

Senior guard Kyle McAlarney added: “It’s definitely not a burden. I think it’s something that motivates us. Every time we step on this court, we know we’re protecting it. I think it gives our fans a little extra boost, too. They come in, it gets them a lot of energy and we feed off each other in this place.”

But the Irish nearly lost it a few times last season. Providence held a two-point lead with 22 seconds left and had just grabbed a defensive rebound, but Harangody stole the ball, was fouled and hit two clutch free throws to send the game into overtime, where the Irish won 81-74.

The Irish were staring another loss in the face against Pittsburgh on Feb. 21. The Panthers held an 11-point lead with just under 14 minutes to play, but rallied thanks in part to a 16-point, 13-rebound performance from Jackson, to capture the win and keep the streak alive.

“That was definitely I think a tone-setter for the rest of the games that we’ll play in this building,” Hillesland said of the game.

According to McAlarney, the outcome was never in doubt.

“There was a feeling that I had that I think some of the other guys can attest to in the huddles that we just knew we weren’t going to lose that game,” McAlarney said. “No matter how many points we were down, we were going to make a come back, put ourselves in position to win. I think that has a lot to do with just playing on this home court.

“We feel so comfortable here. We have the fans behind us. After the game, when we thought about it, it was a little like ‘Phew. That was close. We almost blew it right there.'”

As much as the players enjoy the streak, they don’t think about it as much as their coach does.

“I think it’s a challenge,” coach Mike Brey said. “I think I get distracted by it much more than my team and that’s a good thing. They see it as a confidence-giver. We play so well here, they love playing here. Our sixth man, our students, have been awesome here. At times, I’ve been a little distracting by it but it’s all about what the guys like.”

If Notre Dame wants to keep the streak going this season, it certainly can’t have an off night. Opponents on this year’s home slate include No. 22 Georgetown, No. 15 Marquette, No. 3 Louisville and No. 2 Connecticut.

“I have not put that as a goal for this group, but they have,” Brey said of staying undefeated at home. “They’d like to keep the thing alive. Our schedule’s so tough that for us to do it a third straight year with what’s coming into this building would be a through the roof accomplishment.”