Dominating on both ends of the court, especially on defense, the Irish were all over St. Ambrose from the opening tip-off as Notre Dame won easily 109-53. In front of a nearly half-full Joyce Center on a home football weekend, the Irish gave St. Ambrose a harsh reality in Division I basketball, racing out to a 34-point halftime lead and never looking back.
Notre Dame has one more exhibition game next Wednesday versus St. Edwards of Texas. Tip-off at the Joyce Center for that contest is at 7:30 PM. After a 24-8 season in 2006-07 that took the Irish back to the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame came out on Friday with passion despite the inferior competition.
"We have good energy in this building," head coach Mike Brey said. "Defensively, we were in good position, especially the first 15 minutes. And we were running. We want to keep running and attacking and not worry so much about the half-court offense. We're trying to flow and attack and I love our unselfishness."
Notre Dame had a series of runs in the first half to stake themselves to a huge halftime advantage. The Irish went on runs of 7-0, 8-0 and 20-0 to quickly take over the game and dash any hope St. Ambrose had at staying close. The big lead also let Brey play 11 players in the first 20 minutes of action, including all four freshmen.
Although Notre Dame scored 51 points before halftime, the driving force in the game was defense. The Irish contested every pass and were constantly up in the face of the St. Ambrose players. It led to 16 forced turnovers in the first half and holding St. Ambrose to 6-of-34 shooting from the field, including just 2-of-11 from three-point range. For the game, St. Ambrose shot only 28.9 percent and committed 24 turnovers while Notre Dame was responsible for 19 steals, most of which led to easy fastbreak points.
The picture on the cover of the Notre Dame Basketball Media Guide is senior forward Rob Kurz, who was named the sole captain of the 2007-08 Irish. Kurz, a two-time captain, demonstrated on Friday that he's going to be the a threat inside and out on the perimeter. The senior, who is coming off a 12-point, eight rebound a contest average from last season, turned in a beauty against a St. Ambrose team who had only three players 6-6 or taller.
Kurz almost had a double-double before halftime. The senior forward had 16 points and nine rebounds at intermission and finished the night with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Kurz did it in a variety of ways, from leading the fastbreak down the court to getting the usual offensive rebound putbacks. The captain got some help from Zach Hillesland. The junior forward also notched a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
"Kurz sets the tone," Brey said. "He's a man. Zack finished the year strong and that's how he's been practicing. Zach is such a unique guy. When you have a guy that can rebound, take three dribbles and be at half court, it puts a lot of pressure. Our guys have really learned how to play off of him. They‘re always sprinting and he makes good decisions. He keeps us attacking."
Friday was the return of Kyle McAlarney to an Irish uniform. Despite just an exhibition, it must of felt good for the Staten Island native to be back on the court. The junior guard was dismissed from Notre Dame for the second semester last season after being arrested for marijuana possession in late December. But McAlarney was re-admitted in the summer and was back in action, although at the off-guard spot.
That's because of the emergence of Tory Jackson last season at the point guard position, the place McAlarney was the lead dog before his dismissal. Jackson came on strong late last year, including a brilliant performance in the Big East Tournament semifinal loss to Georgetown. Brey has talked about the rhythm the two have displayed in summer workouts and preseason practices and it showed in Friday. McAlarney finished with 11 points while Jackson ended the contest with 12 points and four steals. The two combined for 11 assists.
ST. AMBROSE 53: Burke 2-11, 0-0 4; Fahrenkrog 4-14, 2-2 10; Gray 0-5, 0-0 0; Shipp 2-7, 0-0 5; Cole 2-6, 0-0 6; Parrot 2-3, 0-0 5; Mullen 0-1, 0-0 0; Binder 1-5, 0-0 2; Bryant 1-4, 0-0 2; Washington 2-7, 2-3 6; Ramoino 5-9, 1-1 11; Waide 0-1, 0-0 0; Hammer 1-2 0-0 2; Mohr 0-0, 0-0 0; Hogan 0-1, 0-0 0; Totals: 22-76, 5-6 53.
NOTRE DAME 109: Kurz 8-10, 6-7 23; Hillesland 5-10, 2-2 12; Jackson 5-12, 1-3 12; McAlarney 4-11, 0-0 11; Ayers 3-6, 0-0 6; Nash 3-4, 1-2 7; Proffitt 1-3, 1-2 3; Peoples 4-9, 2-4 11; Abromaitis 4-4, 0-0 9; Scott 2-5, 0-0 4; Zeller 5-10, 0-1 11; Andree 0-1, 0-0 0; Kopko 0-1, 0-0 0; Totals: 44-86, 13-20 109.