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Men’s Basketball: Notre Dame set to host New Mexico in NIT’s second round

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, March 19, 2009

Entering the Big East tournament, Notre Dame knew it needed to win five games in a row to claim the ultimate prize, but the Irish flamed out in round two. Notre Dame now gets a second chance at making it to round three out of five.

After winning their first NIT game 70-64 over Alabama-Birmingham Tuesday, the No. 2-seed Irish look to advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT when they host No. 3-seed New Mexico (22-11, 12-4 Mountain West) Thursday night at 7:05 p.m.

In an attempt to draw a strong home crowd, the ticket department will be distributing free tickets to the first 1,000 students to attend Thursday’s game. That same incentive was in place for the UAB game but didn’t seem to have much effect, as roughly one-fourth of the 2,064 in attendance were students. That attendance figure, however, may have been affected by the 9 p.m. start time for a game played on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I think our crowd really helped us tonight, and it’ll be better because there will be even more people Thursday,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after Tuesday’s win. “It’ll build a little bit for Thursday.”

Strong crowd or not, the Joyce Center has been a good home for Notre Dame this season. The Irish are 13-3 at home compared to 2-9 on the road. The Irish have also beaten 35 straight non-conference opponents at the JACC, last losing to Michigan 71-67 on Dec. 3, 2005.

“Especially for our seniors, to play another home game Thursday, that’s great for them,” junior forward Luke Harangody said. “They’re looking to fight every game. They want to keep playing, everybody on the team wants to keep playing, we’re just excited to be out here.”

New Mexico, however, won’t feel completely out of its element traveling to Indiana for Thursday’s game. The Lobos are coached by Steve Alford, who was Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana in 1983. Alford then went on to an All-America career at Indiana that included a national championship in 1987.

Sophomore guard Dairese Gary is also making a homecoming of sorts. Alford’s first signee at New Mexico, Gary played point guard at Concord High in Elkhart, Ind. He’s found a new home in Albuquerque as Gary is the only Lobo to start every game this season, averaging 8.1 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per game.

Gary, though, isn’t the player Notre Dame most needs to account for Thursday. That distinction falls to senior forward Daniel Faris, a 6-foot-9-inch, 245-pound load who notched a career-best 28 points and 13 rebounds in New Mexico’s 83-71 win over Nebraska in the first round. Faris is averaging 11.5 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game on the season.

Responsibility for Faris will likely fall primarily on the shoulders of Harangody. The junior forward played a leading role in the Irish win over UAB, pouring in 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Harangody will get some help down low from sophomore Tyrone Nash, who saw expanded minutes when senior forward Zach Hillesland went out because of a knee injury.

Hillesland and the rest of the Irish have been using their brief time before Thursday’s game to recover from Tuesday’s win.

“Wednesday’s a day where, we’ve done a lot of these one day in between things,” Brey said. “It’s trying to get our energy back, it’s more of a mental session, shoot a little bit, stretch out and have the same energy for Thursday night. If you’re fortunate enough to win on Thursday, then you get some time off.”