A Rob Kurz three-pointer broke a 61-all tie with three minutes remaining and a career-high of 32 points from Kyle McAlarney were enough for the Irish to thrwart the comeback attempt in beating Connecticut 73-67. In front of 10,505 noisy fans at the Joyce Center on Saturday night, Notre Dame hung on in the end for the team's 30th straight home victory. The bigger news: the Irish won their tenth straight game after back-to-back losses to improve to 12-2 on the season and start out Big East Conference action 2-0. Notre Dame has a week off before hitting the court again, this time for the their first true road contest at Marquette next Saturday.
This game against the Huskies (10-3, 1-1) had a little bit of everything. There was a big lead, a huge comeback, physical play down low, Tory Jackson's swollen right eye courtesy of UCONN's Hasheem Thabeet and knees knocking all over the arena as the contest was tied with 3:58 remaining. Luckily for the Irish, McAlarney's career-night came at the right time as Notre Dame protected their home court in league action behind the junior guard's performance and some clutch plays down the stretch.
"What a great night," head coach Mike Brey said. "I never thought when we were up big in the first half that we were going to put them away. I knew they were going to come back at us. I was pleased with our mental and physical toughness. We were getting some shots and didn't hit them but continued to guard. We did do that. To get out of here at 2-0 and feel good about your start to league play is good."
Down by 21 in the first half, UCONN showed just how good they can be in making the comeback attempt. The Huskies went on a quick 14-2 run at the beginning of the second half to make it 49-46. Connecticut also stepped up on the defensive end of the court, mostly behind Thabeet. The 7-3 sophomore ended the night with 10 blocked shots and as a team, UCONN tied the Joyce Center record with 12. The blocked shots frustrated Notre Dame's Luke Harangody all night long, who did end up with his seventh double-double of the year (14 points, 10 rebounds) but shot just 5-of-23 from the floor. The Huskies took a 58-57 lead on a basket from Jeff Adrien.
After some back-and-forth, the game was tied at 61-all with under four minutes remaining. The player to step up and hit the big shot was Rob Kurz. The senior captain drilled a three-pointer to give Notre Dame the 64-61 advantage. Kurz finished the contest with 14 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season, and as a team Notre Dame outrebounded the Big East's leader in the category 48-44.
After Kurz's clutch three-pointer, it was time for McAlarney to do what he did all night: hit big shots. After the Adrien's tying lay-up attempt was blocked by Kurz, the junior guard came down on the next possession and nailed a three-pointer of his own to give the Irish a 67-61 lead with 2:39 left in the contest.
McAlarney wasn't done with his career outing. After UCONN had cut the deficit to 69-67 with a minute to go, the junior guard converted on a running floater from inside the lane to increase the advantage to four points with 37 seconds remaining. In the contest, McAlarney shot 13-of-19 from the field, including 6-of-7 from three-point range. It was a pretty good night for the Staten Island native.
"What a performance," Brey said of McAlarney. "I told him I thought he had his old Catholic League jersey on tonight the way he was moving. We had to get the ball in his hands. Our bigs were having trouble with Thabeet in the lane. It opened the floor for Kyle to get into the lane and get some drives and shots."
The tough, physical win will show on the face of Notre Dame's sophomore point guard. On a drive to the basket late in the first half, Jackson was hit in the face by Thabeet's hand. Jackson left for the locker room and his status for the second half was up in the air. But the sophomore showed what he was made out of, playing every minute in the second half. Jackson, who suffered a cornea abrasion, sported a puffed and almost completely shut right eye for the rest of the contest but still finished with a season-high 11 assists and scored six points, including two critical free throws in the final minutes.
"When I saw him (at halftime), he had just come from the doctor's," Brey said. "They said he could go. I'm going, ‘I don't think he can play.' But he called it off. I'm not surprised with that kid."
CONNECTICUT 67: Adrien 7-16, 2-5 16; Robinson 3-6, 0-0 6; Thabeet 3-11, 2-3 8; Dyson 4-12, 4-5 13; Price 6-14, 0-0 13; Wiggins 2-5, 0-0 5; Austrie 0-2, 0-0 0; Edwards 2-3, 3-4 7; Totals: 27-69, 11-17 67.
NOTRE DAME 73: McAlarney 13-19, 0-1 32; Kurz 5-12, 2-2 14; Harangody 5-23, 4-4 14; Jackson 2-5, 2-2 6; Ayers 1-6, 2-2 6; Hillesland 1-4, 0-0 2; Zeller 0-3, 0-0 0; Peoples 0-1, 0-0 0; Totals: 27-73, 10-11 73.