Coming off one of the biggest wins in the program’s history, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey envisions big things for the rest of the season.
A loss to DePaul would be big, but certainly wouldn’t fit into his plans.
The ninth-ranked Fighting Irish look to win their sixth straight in the series and hand the lowly Blue Demons their 22nd straight Big East loss when they meet at Rosemont, Ill. on Thursday night.
Notre Dame (17-4, 6-3) hasn’t played since defeating then-No. 2 Pittsburgh 56-51 on Jan. 24, handing the Panthers just their second loss in 53 home games.
“This is probably the best win I’ve had … maybe ever,” said senior Ben Hansbrough, who had 19 points.
The Irish slowed down the tempo of the game, a style they call “burn,” and held the Panthers 27 points below their season average.
“(We have to be) mentally tough and disciplined to do what we do,” Brey said. “Guys played their roles and we stuck to our plan. Our focus and concentration, I thought was at an all-time high. Because of that, ‘dream big dreams,’ I told them.”
The Irish have won three in a row and are tied for second in the Big East, two games behind the first-place Panthers.
Notre Dame’s nine-day layoff has been its longest of the season. The last two days were spent primarily in a hotel, as the Irish left South Bend on Tuesday afternoon to avoid the major blizzard that hit Chicago later that night.
Notre Dame has won its last two visits to DePaul, and five straight overall in the series since a 67-66 road loss Feb. 8, 2007. In the lone matchup last season, the Irish’s Tim Abromaitis scored 30 points in an 87-77 victory at South Bend.
Abromaitis is averaging 14.2 points, second to Hansbrough’s team-best 16.5, but has totaled only eight points in his last two games.
Carleton Scott picked up some of the offensive slack against Pitt, scoring 16 points while making 5 of 6 3-point attempts. Scott was making his second start after sitting out four games due to a balky hamstring.
“He’s a big part of our team,” Brey said of the 6-foot-8 senior.
DePaul is led by freshman Cleveland Melvin, whose 20.5 points per game in conference play rank third in the Big East.
Melvin had 17 points in last Thursday’s 71-60 loss to South Florida - the Blue Demons’ 21st consecutive conference defeat since a 51-50 victory over Marquette on Jan. 20, 2010. Last season’s loss at Notre Dame began the losing streak.
DePaul (6-14, 0-8) was within five points late in the second half Thursday but South Florida scored the game’s next 10 points to take control.
“We, obviously, had a little shot there at the end,” Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell said.
DePaul, 1-43 in regular-season conference games since 2008-09, has dropped 24 consecutive games to ranked opponents by an average of 15.4 points since an 84-76 victory over then-No. 17 Villanova on Jan. 3, 2008.