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Men’s Basketball: Notre Dame hosts Rutgers in must-win Big East contest

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coming off an emotional week that kept Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Irish have little time to recover.

The next 10 days will be a whirlwind of Big East basketball for the Irish (15-11, 6-8), as they play the final four games of their conference slate starting Wednesday at home against Rutgers.

After putting together their most complete road performance of the season Saturday at Providence, though, that schedule suits the Irish just fine.

“We’re so excited. We just want to keep this going,” senior captain Kyle McAlarney said. “We want to bring the rest of the league on right now. We just want to play and win as many games as we can.”

Luckily for the Irish, their schedule should help them in that endeavor. Three of the team’s final four games will take place in the Joyce Center, where Notre Dame is 10-2 this season and where the Irish have won 22 of their past 24 conference games.

It also helps that the Irish start the stretch against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have lost five games in a row, with four of those defeats coming by double digits. Rutgers has won only once in its past 15 contests – a victory over DePaul, who is the only team below Rutgers in the Big East conference standings.

Still, the Irish aren’t taking their next opponent lightly.

“They’re a team that’s going to get up into you, very long and athletic, a lot of shot-blockers,” junior forward Luke Harangody said. “It’s going to be a tough game. It’s a Big East game and it’s going to be tough, no matter who you’re playing.”

Junior guard Jonathon Peoples made a statement with his performance Saturday against Providence.

Against the Friars, Peoples enjoyed a breakout performance in which he played 28 minutes setting career highs in points (13) and assists (nine). His ball-handling against the Friars’ press was a key part of the season-high 103 points put up by the Irish.

“We were joking around with him. He needs to play like that for us that all the time,” Harangody said. “We know he’s capable of doing that, I think he just needed a little confidence. Now, he’s sky high, and that’s great for us.”

McAlarney was also impressed with Peoples’ performance.

“It was a breakout game for him. He’s capable of that,” he said. “He handles the ball well. He’s strong and makes great decisions. I think that was evident against Providence. He made great decisions with the ball. Tory was out most of the game and he did a good job of playing with the team and not slowing us down at all.”?

Whether its Peoples or regular starter junior Tory Jackson handling the point guard duties, Notre Dame will need a strong performance fromf its backcourt. The Scarlet Knights are led by their guard duo of Mike Rosario and Anthony Farmer who, combined, average just over 26 points per game. Last season, Rutgers gave Notre Dame a scare in Piscataway. The heavily-favored Irish escaped with a 71-68 win.

“From what I can remember they have drivers,” McAlarney said. “Guards who can really get in the paint and drive the ball. Obviously they’re a dangerous team and can get up into you. They play kind of chaotic.”