The junior guard poured in a career-high 32 points to help the Irish fend off a comeback challenge from the Huskies and preserve the 73-67 win. The victory sent Notre Dame to their tenth straight win overall and to 12-2 on the year. More importantly, the Irish start out 2-0 in Big East play with both contests played at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame has won 30 straight at home and defending their home court like they did in the first two Big East games will help the Irish stay towards the top of the league standings.
McAlarney was simply on fire on Saturday. The junior guard came out of the gates fast, scoring 18 points before halftime on only one missed shot from the field. The production was a big reason why Notre Dame was up 21 at one point in the first half and 47-32 at intermission.
In the second half, UCONN made their run and took a one-point lead with six minutes remaining in the contest. With the score tied at 61-all and 3:55 showing on the clock, senior captain Rob Kurz hit the go-ahead three-pointer. After a defensive stop, McAlarney gave Notre Dame more breathing room with another three-pointer to increase the advantage to 67-61.
The Huskies fought back again and had it down to 69-67 with a minute remaining. As the shot clock was winding down, the Irish put the ball in the hands of McAlarney and he delivered. The junior connected on a floater in the late to push the lead back out to four at 71-67 and finally put away the resilient Connecticut squad. McAlarney ended the night 13-of-19 from the floor, including 6-of-7 from three-point range. The junior is third in the Big East from behind the arc, shooting 45.4 percent from three-point land. McAlarney credits his mechanics for the success.
"I used my legs a lot in my shot and when my legs go my shot kind of goes and I learned that rest is good and I actually did that the past few days," McAlarney said. "When you hit a few early then you feel good the rest of the game, you get in a great rhythm and you want the ball."
***The physical nature of the Notre Dame-Connecticut game showed on the face of Tory Jackson. The sophomore point guard was sporting a swollen right eye, courtesy of Thabeet. Jackson drove the lane in the first half and had his shot blocked by the Huskies center. On the play, Thabeet's hand followed through and hit Jackson in the face. The sophomore point guard went to the locker room and it was determined Jackson had a corneal abrasion.
But the sophomore showed his toughness. After convincing head coach Mike Brey to let him give it a go, Jackson went out and played every minute of the second half. The sophomore ended the night with six points and seven turnovers but dished out 11 assists, a season-high. If there was a loose ball, Jackson was diving on the floor. Maybe the most important accomplishment achieved were the two free throws made that stretched a four-point lead to 69-63 with 1:52 left. Going into Saturday, Jackson was shooting 43 percent from the charity stripe. Not bad for a player with just one good eye.
"I felt like my team needed me and I couldn't go out like that," Jackson said, who was icing the swollen eye in the locker room after the victory. "A lot of big time players that is what they do, they fight through pain. They fight through injuries. If I could see out of one eye I felt like I could play."
***Notre Dame outrebounded Connecticut 48-44. Why is this important? The Huskies are the tops in this category in the Big East. The Irish have been outrebounded in two of the 14 games played this season. Those contests? The two losses to Baylor and Georgia Tech in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands. Notre Dame is first in the league in rebounding margin, pulling down 10 more boards per game than their opponent.
***The Notre Dame Sports Information Department contributed to this report.