The Irish went on a 15-2 run during a stretch at the end of the first half into the first few minutes after halftime to pull away from the Eagles and win 76-65. In front of 9,277 fans at the Joyce Center, the decisive run was enough of an offensive surge to make it 24 in a row as Eastern Michigan didn't get the deficit back into single digits for the remainder of the game.
The last time Notre Dame (5-2) lost at home was back on February 25, 2006 when the Irish went down to Marquette 80-72 in a Big East Conference contest. Since that defeat, Notre Dame has been unbeatable at the Joyce Center. With home non-conference games left against Northern Illinois, San Francisco, Brown and North Florida, the Irish, barring an upset, will go into the Big East slate with the record in tact.
The only non-conference game that'll be away from the Joyce Center is on Tuesday when Notre Dame travels to Madison Square Garden in New York City to take on freshman phenom Michael Beasley and the Kansas State Wildcats in the Jimmy V Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM and ESPN will have the national television broadcast. The chance for the home record will come next Saturday night versus Northern Illinois.
On this Saturday night, Eastern Michigan (3-4) played Notre Dame toe-to-toe for almost the entire contest. The Eagles Justin Dobbins, averaging 9.8 PPG coming into the contest, was a force down low, scoring a game-high 26 points. But the 15-2 run that pushed a three-point advantage into a 49-32 lead was the big blow to Eastern Michigan's chance to break the home-court streak."That was a good win for us because I think they're a good basketball team," head coach Mike Brey said. "They have good athletic ability and they run their stuff. A key for us was not to let them get going from the three-point line. I thought we did a good job of that and we were giving up Dobbins in the post. I'd rather absorb that than (them) getting rolling from three-point range and getting confident.
"I thought we got off to a great start. And we ended and started the halves really well, which was a key to the game for us."
Eastern Michigan found ways to stay in the ballgame early. Most of it was due to Dobbins. The 6-8 sophomore forward powered his way to 14 of his 26 points in the first half, including eight in a row at one point to cut the Notre Dame lead to 19-15.
But every time the Eagles got close, the Irish were able to hit the big shot to extend the advantage, none more important than the flurry before the intermission break. A made field goal by Dobbins cut the Irish lead to 35-32 with a few minutes remaining before halftime.
That's when Notre Dame made their move to put the game out of reach. Luke Zeller drained a deep three-pointer to make it 38-32. Zach Hillesland followed it up with a basket to increase the advantage to 40-32. Ryan Ayers sent the team into the locker room happy after nailing his third long-range bomb of the half to give the Irish a 43-32 intermission lead. The junior forward ended the night with 12 points and also held the Eagles‘ leading scorer, Jesse Bunkley, to just six points
"I think that's the thing I'm most excited about," Brey said of Ayers play. "I put him on Bunkley and he absolutely took Bunkley away. Bunkley is the guy that gets them confident and gets them going. What he gave us on the offensive end, especially that shot at the end of the first half, was a big-time shot. That's something to build on for Ryan."
The run continued into the second half. Luke Harangody scored the first four points of the second half and Rob Kurz's basket a few possessions later gave the Irish a 49-32. Eastern Michigan would not get closer than 11 points the rest of the second half. As has been the case lately, it was Harangody and the hot shooting of Kyle McAlarney that gave the Notre Dame offense the production they needed.
Harangody has been the team's best scoring threat, totaling 20 points or more in three of the past four games. The sophomore forward came up just a tad short of the mark on Saturday, totaling 18 points and seven rebounds in battling Dobbins down low for paint supremacy. As for McAlarney, the Staten Island native continued his hot shooting. The junior guard notched 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. It's the third game in a row that McAlarney has broken the 20-point barrier. The cold shooting start to the 2007-08 season seems like it was months ago for McAlarney as the junior has been a key reason Notre Dame has won three in a row heading into Tuesday‘s contest against Kansas State.
EASTERN MICHIGAN 65: Dobbins 12-19, 2-5 26; Medlock 3-8, 0-0 8; Cooper 0-5, 0-0 0; Farrow 1-2, 0-0 2; Bunkley 2-4, 0-0 6; Jones 0-3, 2-4 2; Axon 1-4, 0-0 3; Gay 5-5, 2-2 14; Lewis 0-0, 2-2 2; Dodd 1-2, 0-0 2; Totals: 25-52, 8-13 65.
NOTRE DAME 76: Kurz 2-5, 3-7 7; Harangody 7-12, 4-4 18; Jackson 3-10, 0-1 7; McAlarney 8-10, 0-0 21; Ayers 4-5, 1-1 12; Peoples -1, 4-4 4; Hillesland 2-3, 0-0 4; Zeller 1-2, 0-0 3; Totals: 27-48, 12-17 76.