"I feel good we had to do some tough stuff," Brey said about the victory over the Wildcats. "We had to hit some free throws and get the ball inbounds. Overall, I thought we were good defensively in zone and man. I liked how we rebounded the ball. I thought our turnovers hurt us at times. To have 10 turnovers at halftime, especially after we got up 10, really hurt us. But it's something to build on for this group early."
Notre Dame now stands at 6-2 heading into four home non-conference games before Big East play starts. The Irish will be double-digit favorites in all of them as they look to break the school mark of consecutive wins at the Joyce Center. A victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday night will make it 25 in a row and establish the new mark.
Notre Dame will go into the contest with momentum because of the win over Kansas State, a team that featured the nation's leading scorer and rebounder in Michael Beasley and a potential lottery pick in Bill Walker. The Irish appeared in control of the game until late in the second half. The Wildcats made one final comeback attempt and two Beasley free throws cut the lead to 61-59 with 1:47 remaining.
Notre Dame fans might have been thinking, ‘Here we go, again.' In the Irish's two losses this season to Baylor and Georgia Tech, Notre Dame held ten and nine point leads respectively in the second half. But it was the Bears and the Yellow Jackets, not the Irish, who hit critical three-pointers in the final minute to pull out the victories in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands.
This time, Notre Dame got the production from a player who grew up not too far from Madison Square Garden. Staten Island native Kyle McAlarney's three-pointer with 1:32 remaining gave the Irish a five-point cushion and junior Ryan Ayers made two defensive stops to preserve the win, giving Notre Dame a crucial non-conference victory. The Irish team apparently learned a lesson or two down in the Virgin Islands about holding a lead late in a contest.
"I thought Baylor played well and they're a good team," Brey said. "We had control of it but I thought we hung our heads when we made some mistakes. I thought we were immature and young in that game. In the Georgia Tech game, we were fearless and went for it. Our psyche was better but we still missed some free throws and made some mistakes. But we didn't dwell on them. That's why we had chance to win it at the end. I thought we matured and maybe got a little mentally tougher (vs. KSU). We were grittier the last two minutes."
***As for McAlarney, the junior guard continued his solid play as of late with some late-game heroics. In addition to the critical three-pointer made with under 1:35 to go in the second half, McAlarney scored the team's final nine points. For the game, the junior finished with 18 points. It's the fourth straight game that McAlarney has scored 18 points or more. It was also the first time back in the Garden for the Staten Island native since last year's dismissal from school for marijuana possession. The homecoming ended happy.
"I was able to grab him on the way out to the bus," Brey said of McAlarney, who had over 200 hundred friends and family in attendance. "We were in the elevator and I told him, ‘I'm very happy for you and it's very fitting.' That's about all I needed to say. I was a little concerned going into the game that coming home for McAlarney and the last time Notre Dame was here there was drama and 250 tickets were bought from Staten Island. It had all the makings of a guy not playing well. That was my biggest worry. Normal kids in that situation are bad. I respect that he was a man."
***Tuesday's win over Kansas State might have been a coming out party for Luke Harangody on a national level. With ESPN televising the contest, the sophomore forward matched Beasley, who many think will be the top pick in next year's NBA Draft, point for point and even outrebounded the nation's leader in the category. Harangody finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds while Beasley totaled 19 points and 13 rebounds. The junior leads Notre Dame in scoring at 17.5 per game and rebounds with 8.9 a contest.
"If Beasley is the first pick, I guess Harangody is the second pick," Brey joked. "That's what we saw in the Virgin Islands and in practice. You have a young man who is very confident. You have teammates who know how to use him and play off of him. They know it's such a strength to establish him down low. We like how he's rebounding the ball and how he sets the tone for us toughness-wise. The biggest thing for Luke is making sure he realizes how good he is."***Brey on where he would like the students to sit once the Joyce Center is done with renovations: "I think if we could get them halfway around the bowl in some way, that would be pretty good. We're still talking it. Certainly, great venues like Cameron (Indoor Stadium) and Breslin (Center) have students in the lower bowl with the season-ticket holders over the top. That is your best setup. I don't know if we can achieve that and I'm not as plugged in right now completely. But can we get some of that? I think it's important to get some of that."