Fresh off a fast start at home in the Big East, Notre Dame tries to go 3-0 in conference play for the first time in school history Saturday when it plays No. 15 Marquette in its first true road game.
The Fighting Irish (12-2, 2-0) have never won their first three Big East games since joining the conference in 1995. But they are in position to accomplish the feat after defeating West Virginia and Connecticut at the Joyce Center. They beat the Huskies 73-67 last Saturday to extend their overall winning streak to 10 games and their home win streak to 30.
“There’s nothing like starting 2-0 at home in league play,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team squandered a 15-point halftime lead before recovering down the stretch. “I love how we played against Connecticut when there was extreme game pressure. We had to make some big plays on the offensive end and the defensive end.”
Kyle McAlarney hit six 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 32 points. The junior guard, who is second on the Irish in scoring at 14.9 points per game and has made 45.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, knows he will have to be at his best against Marquette’s guard-oriented offense.
“Marquette’s a heck of a team, a heck of a backcourt, one of the best in the country,” said McAlarney, who had gone just 9-for-33 from the field his previous three games before going 13 of 19 - including 6 of 7 from 3-point range - versus the Huskies.
“We’re not going to go in there kissing their feet or anything. We don’t want to play like we’re 2-0, we want to play like we’re 0-2.”
Notre Dame’s only losses came to Baylor and Georgia Tech by a combined five points at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. The Irish’s 10-game win streak is their longest since a 12-game run Nov. 14, 2006 to Jan. 3, 2007.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles (12-2, 2-1) have looked sluggish in their last two games after routing Providence to start Big East play. But Marquette gutted out a 61-56 victory over Seton Hall on Tuesday, rallying from a 13-point first-half deficit and overcoming a season-worst 32.8 (20-for-61) shooting percentage.
“It was an ugly game on both ends,” said Marquette forward Dan Fitzgerald, whose fourth and final 3-pointer sealed the victory. “The reason we won was because we held them. It was all defense.”
Dominic James sprained his right wrist with 5:58 remaining after a hard foul by Seton Hall’s Jamar Nutter, but still finished with 13 points and made two key free throws down the stretch. Marquette coach Tom Crean fully expects James - the team’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game - in the starting lineup.
“It’s part of it, it’s Big East basketball,” Crean said after Tuesday’s game. “He feels good, so we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think he’s got his M.D. license right yet to be making those determinations.”
Stopping Irish power forward Luke Harangody will be key for the undersized Golden Eagles. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound sophomore is averaging team highs of 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds, and also has seven double-doubles.
Harangody had 22 points and 13 rebounds while Tory Jackson added 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as Notre Dame snapped a three-game losing streak to Marquette with an 85-73 home win last season.
The Fighting Irish lead the 88-year-old rivalry 76-32 but have lost three straight at the Bradley Center since a 68-58 victory Feb. 17, 1994.