The Irish will host Northern Illinois (2-6) on Saturday at the Joyce Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM. Why is this contest important? Currently, Notre Dame has won 24 in a row at the Joyce Center, which is tied with the school record. The Irish haven't lost in South Bend since February 25, 2006 to Marquette.
It's been pretty easy sledding so far this season at the Joyce Center in the lead-up to the record. Notre Dame's closest game at home this year has been an 11-point victory over Eastern Michigan last Saturday night. After Northern Illinois, the Irish have San Francisco, Brown and North Florida before a January 3rd home date with Big East member West Virginia. Notre Dame has been incredible at home during this stretch and there's a good reason for the dominance.
"We can really score the ball," head coach Mike Brey said. "We're good offensively in here. I wonder what our shooting percentage is during the streak. We've been very confident in here offensively. Once you get something started, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy psychologically. Our group talks about how good we play here and how good we are defensively here and how good we shoot the ball here. As a psychologist, you like hearing those things. What I like about it is that it's kept them focused."
Notre Dame, winners of four in a row after back-to-back losses to Baylor and Georgia Tech, will have two weeks off after Saturday's game against Northern Illinois. The Irish won't be back in action until December 22nd versus San Francisco at the Joyce Center.
The time off may not cool down the hot play of Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney. Harangody leads the team in scoring at 17.5 PPG and rebounding at 8.9 RPG. The sophomore forward scored 19 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the win over Kansas State, going toe-to-toe with the Wildcats' Michael Beasley, who many regard as the next year's top pick in the NBA Draft. McAlarney has scored 18 points or more in four straight games, including a career-high 25 in the victory over Colgate. The junior guard scored the team's final nine points in the win over Kansas State, including a crucial three-pointer with 1:32 left that stretched a two-point lead to five.
Northern Illinois comes into the contest winners of two in a row after losing six straight to start the season. The Huskies beat Air Force 63-52 on Tuesday night behind Jarvis Nichols' season-high 18 points. Head coach Ricardo Patton's group will be facing their fourth team this year who totaled 20 or more victories in 2006-07.
It's a balanced attack, with six players averaging between ten and five points a contest. Ryan Paradise leads the team in scoring at 10.7 PPG. The 6-0 senior guard hasn't been lighting it up, shooting 32 percent from the field and 27 percent from three-point-range. Nichols, a 6-2 junior, averages nine PPG and is shooting 37 percent from behind the arc. Egan Grafel, a 6-10 senior, is the main guy down low, leading the team in rebounds with six a contest while chipping in eight PPG. A problem for Northern Illinois has been their ability to hold on to the ball. The Huskies have committed 155 turnovers to 81 assists but the two straight wins might mean that Northern Illinois is starting to shake off the rust.
"They got off to a tough start," Brey said. "They hired a heck of a coach. Ricardo is a heck of a coach. To do what he did in Colorado, which is a difficult job, just shows you what type of head coach he is. It was only a matter of time before it kicked in and they just beat Air Force. Air Force is a little down but that's a great win for a team that started 0-6. Like Eastern Michigan, MAC teams can play and they're well coached. They're aware of the streak, too. That would be a nice feather in their cap."