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Men’s Basketball: Going out in style?

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, March 5, 2009

After Monday’s demoralizing loss to Villanova, many have accepted that Notre Dame’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament are slim, but the Irish players haven’t. At the very least, that’s the team’s party line as it prepares for the final game of the regular season Friday against St. John’s.

“I don’t think we’re accepting anything,” senior Ryan Ayers said about the team’s postseason possibilities. “Anything could happen from here, so why would we give up now. We’re going to come out with a lot of pride and play with a lot of heart on Friday.”

Besides the fact that their postseason lives will be on life support, emotions will be high for the Irish when they take the Joyce Center court against St. John’s. Friday’s game will serve as Senior Night, and the team’s four graduating seniors – Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller – will all be honored before the game.

For a group that has grown particularly close over their four years in South Bend, Friday’s game will be an emotional experience.

“I got sick to my stomach. I actually almost threw up the other day thinking about it, literally,” McAlarney said. “It’s crazy. This place really means a lot to me. This program really means a lot to me. It’s pretty much been my whole life in the time that I was here. Emotions are going to be flying high on Friday.”

“It’s going to be all teammate-based,” Hillesland said in reference to how he’ll remember his four years at Notre Dame. “Certainly I have some on-court memories here and there, but if anyone asks me about my time at Notre Dame, what my favorite thing was, it’s always going to be the teammates that I’ve had and the friendships that I’ve developed.

Hillesland added: “I don’t usually view myself as very sentimental. But I can say that now, but who knows what’s going to happen when they call my name and I walk out with my mom and sister and I’m kind of treating it like any other game. I think I’ll have my emotions in check, but you never really know until you get out there.”

Despite Notre Dame’s struggles this season, this year’s group of seniors has a lot to be proud of about its time in South Bend. In 2007, they were part of the first Irish team to make the NCAA Tournament since 2003. One year later, all four played major roles in helping Notre Dame back to the NCAA Tournament and challenging for the Big East regular season title in the process.

They were also major parts of the Irish teams (2006-2009) that put together the nation’s longest home winning streak of 45 that ended earlier this season against Connecticut.

“It’s probably the total package of guys that have been a part of a lot of winning overall … but how they’ve handled their business academically and how they represented their business and the University, I’m really proud of,” Brey said. “Four really, as they say, class acts, who’ve had great runs for us. Been through a lot of highs and a lot of lows.”

For the seniors, ending their home careers on a high is not a given. Despite the fact that St. John’s currently sits tied for 12th place in the conference standings – two spots behind Notre Dame – the Red Storm defeated the Irish 71-66 when the two teams met in New York on Jan. 3.

In that game, Notre Dame was unable to stop St. John’s guard D.J. Kennedy, who racked up 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds. The Irish offense was plagued by poor shooting in that contest as the team made only 4-of-17 three-point field goals.