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Men’s Basketball: Going to the Garden

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, February 23, 2012

Following a 71-44 rout of West Virginia on Wednesday, the No. 18 Irish can clinch a coveted double-bye in the Big East tournament with a win against St. John’s. They can do it on the same court where they hope to apply it: Madison Square Garden.

Rather than worry about the prospect of a double-bye, Irish coach Mike Brey said his team’s performance at the Garden on Saturday carries more clout.

“It’s very simple what I talked about [with the team]: playing well on that floor because we will be back there in two weeks to try and win a championship,” Brey said after Wednesday’s win. “That’s kind of where it’s at and the bye stuff will take care of itself. That is our focus these next two days.”

Notre Dame (20-8, 12-3 Big East) will strive to add its second-straight double-bye to top off a noteworthy week filled with significant accomplishments. Fresh off a 20-point comeback win at Villanova on Saturday, the Irish victory over the Mountaineers (17-11, 7-8) broke the Notre Dame record for Big East conference wins with nine and gave Brey his sixth-straight 20-win season.

“It’s very special,” Brey said. “They really wanted that record. It’s really special for this group to do it. It’ll be a great story in the history of our basketball program, and [we will] see if we can keep riding it past nine.”

The Irish benefitted from four scorers in double-figures and shot at a season-high clip — over 60 percent in each half — against the sluggish Mountaineers, who could only tally 16 points in the entire second half.

“I think we are shooting the ball better,” Brey said. “We are trending up as shooters. Our numbers were so bad in early January from the 3-point line. Thankfully people weren’t shooting very (well) against us and that has continued. We are more confident shooters.”

The road test against St. John’s (12-16, 5-10) provides the Irish with a chance to preview the same court hosting the Big East tournament, as well as the opportunity to exact revenge after last season’s 72-54 drubbing at the hands of the Red Storm. But for some of the young Irish team, the matchup grants a special prospect of playing at the world-famous arena for the first time.

“It’s big for me. [Madison Square Garden] is just a historic place,” sophomore guard Jerian Grant said. “I want to play well, I want the team to play well.

“We are going to be back there in two weeks so it’s important for the whole team to play well … It’s a bonus to be able to get in there, play a game and get a nice rhythm in there. It’ll be good for us when the tournament comes.”

The “Fresh Five,” St. John’s all-freshmen starting lineup, leads the Red Storm, who have won two-straight at home with recent victories over UCLA and DePaul. Freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison leads the Red Storm in scoring with 16.9 points per game and anchors an athletic attack that ambushes teams with the fastbreak.

“We will get a little rest tomorrow and get some spacing,” Brey said. “It’ll be a tough weekend for us at St. John’s and on Monday down there [at Georgetown].

“[Last season, St. John’s] toyed with us there, pressured us and beat us up. And Monday is a heck of a challenge. We are a lot different than the team that was in D.C. in that building in December. That’s the amazing thing … It’s another great challenge for a team that loves challenges.”

The Irish will head to New York City to take on St. John’s on Saturday at noon in a game televised on ESPN2.



Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]