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Men’s Basketball: Home win streak reaches 25 with defeat of N. Illinois

Chris Hine | Monday, December 10, 2007

Notre Dame junior forward Zach Hillesland dribbled the ball in front of the scorers’ table and attracted the attention of every Northern Illinois defender. Hillesland, meanwhile, had his eye behind the defense on freshman forward Tim Abromaitis, who was cutting toward the basket. Hillesland lofted the ball toward the right side of the rim. Abromaitis jumped and slammed the ball home, completing an electrifying alley-oop on a night when Notre Dame could do little wrong in capturing its school-record 25th consecutive victory at the Joyce Center with a 108-62 drubbing of Northern Illinois on Saturday.

“It feels really good to be a part of history,” said junior forward Ryan Ayers, who finished with 11 points. “You can always mark that down when you come back in 20 years and say, ‘Hey, I was a part of that team.'”

Junior guard Kyle McAlarney and senior forward Rob Kurz each had 17 points while a leaping, diving and dunking Luke Harangody added 14 points and 12 rebounds. The Irish shot 36-for-58 (62 percent) from the field and 14-for-25 (56 percent) from 3-point land. From the opening tip, the Irish were seemingly flawless.

McAlarney spurred Notre Dame early on, draining four straight 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. Notre Dame had 22 points on the board before the first media timeout with 14:35 left in the half.

“The first six minutes of the game, have you ever seen anything like that?” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I mean, are you kidding me? That was a clinic. I’m hitting [assistant coach Sean Kearney] and going, ‘This is fun.’ See I would’ve bought a bunch of tickets for tonight if I knew that was going to happen. You got your money’s worth.”

Despite Notre Dame’s fast start, Northern Illinois brought the score back to a manageable 24-18 with 12:18 remaining in the first half. Then, Notre Dame switched its defense from man-to-man to zone and shut down the Huskies. The rest of the half, the Irish outscored the Huskies 33-7 to take a 57-25 lead into the locker room thanks to a 72 percent shooting performance in the first half. Kurz had nine points during that stretch, and Harangody had one of three monster jams that sent the Joyce Center into a frenzy.

Brey said the Irish had trouble defending screens and the Huskies perimeter game when in the man-to-man, and that precipitated the switch to zone. But Brey also added that sometimes the best defense is a red-hot offense.

“A lot of times, offense like that is a great defense because it’s demoralizing when shots are going in like that,” Brey said. “This program has done that at times. Now we’ve gotten better at putting a body on people in the paint on the defensive end and that’s where I think overall we’ve made a step over the last two years.”

Notre Dame continued to pour it on in the second half, which allowed Brey to give extended minutes to his freshmen and walk-ons.

“The freshmen did great for us. They’ve been great players since June and to see them get in there, I was really proud to be their teammate,” Ayers said. “They played really hard. They all know how to play and obviously it’s just a highlight for the future and the next four years they’re going to be here. There’s good things to come for Notre Dame basketball.”

Abromaitis finished with seven points. Forward Tyrone Nash finished with six points and guard Ty Proffitt added three. Walk-ons Tom Kopko and Tim Andree each got in the mix, notching five and three points, respectively.

Sophomore guard Tory Jackson did not play in the second half because of an arm injury, but Brey said after the game Jackson should be fine and ready to play when Notre Dame resumes play on Dec. 22.