Notre Dame travels to play Oklahoma in Madison Square Garden
Joe Everett | Tuesday, December 4, 2018
After seven straight home games to start its 2018-19 campaign, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team will hit the road to play three straight top-tier Power five programs over the next two weeks, starting Tuesday night against Oklahoma in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
After suffering a 63-60 loss to Radford on Nov. 14, the Irish (6-1) have ripped off four straight wins in Purcell Pavilion, most recently holding off Illinois 76-74 this past Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Against the Illini (2-6), junior guard T.J. Gibbs and sophomore forward D.J. Harvey paced the Irish with 19 points apiece (a career-high for Harvey), while junior forward Juwan Durham produced a breakout game with a career-high 10 points to go along with five blocks. Irish head coach Mike Brey praised the UConn transfer for his play and believes the game can be a key building block for the Notre Dame big man moving forward.
“I think he’ll be very level-headed,” Brey said. “He’s a very steady personality, but I do think it’s a big confidence builder for him. He has never had an impact on a college game like this tonight — he just never has — so I’m certainly going to sell that he’s arrived.”
With the five rejections, Durham became just the sixth Mike Brey-era player to block five or more shots in a game multiple times – joining a list of former Irish stars that includes current Irish assistant coach Ryan Humphrey, Jordan Cornette, Luke Harangody, Torin Francis and Bonzie Colson. Against Illinois, freshman guard Prentiss Hubb also chipped in 10 points for Notre Dame — a team that has seen contributions from all over and is still figuring out its identity, according to Brey.
“We are building this thing, and we’re trying to figure out more about them,” Brey said after the win over Illinois. ”I’m learning about them during the game. This is new for me … we’ve learned a lot through this seven-game home stretch.”
With so many new faces to figure out and question marks to answer, Brey explained that he and his staff are treating this team like a puzzle — trying to see what pieces fit together best — and therefore contributions can come from anywhere on any given night. So far this year, finding where production can consistently come from has been the key question for Brey and his staff.
“It’s kind of night to night,” Brey said. “More than ever before do we talk about ‘what about this group?’ or ‘do we downshift?’ — that’s our challenge as a staff to find that right mix at different parts in the game to help us.”
Brey and the Irish will have to push all the right buttons Tuesday night against the Sooners (6-1) inside the famed venue of Madison Square Garden. This will be the first meeting between Notre Dame and Oklahoma in the history of both men’s basketball programs, but is the 110th time the Irish have played at the Garden (Notre Dame is 59-51 all-time, 42-42 in the current venue).
While the combination of a young team at the start of the season playing inside ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’ might normally be a recipe for disaster, Brey believes it’ll be a good experience for the Irish no matter the outcome.
“Nothing like taking your young guys to Madison Square Garden for the bright lights and the first [big] stage, but what the heck, we’re going for it and let’s go play next Tuesday,” he said.
The Sooners enter the matchup during a season in which the program will look to sustain the success it achieved last season led by now-Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young. Now, the Sooners are led by senior guard Christian James, who is averaging 19.1 points per game this season. Seven games into its campaign, Oklahoma has already beaten Florida and Dayton, suffering its only loss of the season thus far to Wisconsin on Nov. 22.
The Irish and the Sooners will tip-off at 7 p.m. ET inside Madison Square Garden.