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December 22, 2008Kyle McAlarney sat at attention during the timeout, ignoring the standing ovation going up around him. When it came to acknowledging surpassing 1,000 points in his Notre Dame career, the senior guard broke from his literal reputation.
But if there was a moment for McAlarney to bask in the spotlight during an otherwise gray stretch of Notre Dame's season, this was it. Highlights can be elusive in 81-49 blowouts of Savannah State at the Joyce Center, where the Irish extended their record 43-game winning streak.
Fortunately for the 8,260 in attendance with the student body on break, McAlarney provided a bright spot late in the first half, taking a pass from Tory Jackson and coming open on a screen set by Zach Hillesland. Then he nailed a three-pointer.
"With everything that I've been through here it's certainly an accomplishment that I'm proud of," said McAlarney, the 49th player in school history to hit for 1,000. "It definitely felt good to get it over with, especially before the Big East season."
That sentiment summed up the demolitions of Delaware State on Dec. 20 and Savannah State on Monday night. It was the Saturday-Monday turnaround the Irish will see four times during league play, not that schedule replication went into Mike Brey's non-conference planning.
Still, this stretch let Notre Dame feel the urgency of a rapid bounce back paired with the necessity of handling business on the boards and working on multiple defenses. The Irish out-rebounded the Tigers 44-21 and held the visitors to 19-of-52 shooting, a 36.5 percent clip.
"You don't want to look ahead, but we're ready," said point guard Tory Jackson. "We're ready to play at a big-time level and play in big-time games. When we come back we're going to be really excited."
The Irish will break until Dec. 27 when Brey stages an evening practice. Conference play opens on New Year's Eve at DePaul.
When Notre Dame arrives at All-State Arena outside Chicago, the Irish should bring a confidence they're capable of grinding out games when their up-tempo offense slows. Savannah State made chippy part of its game plan, which showed early in the second half when Ryan Ayers took a knee to the stomach.
A Savannah State player walked away with a broken nose minutes later after running into Ayers on a pick underneath the Irish basket.
Notre Dame responded to the physical play by connecting on 23-of-28 free throws. But last year's national leaders in assists had more turnovers (8) than assists (7) at halftime thanks to the grinding style.
Luke Harangody led all scorers with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
"We're older, we're probably a little better about that, understanding there's a lot of different ways to do it," Brey said. "That was one where you had to grind to do it from the line."
Expect for McAlarney, whose historic three-pointer was as care-free as most of his shots. He finished with eight points and 1,002 for his career, which inched him past Gary Brokaw for 48th on the all-time list.
"You don't really remember the baskets that you score or the points that you have," McAlarney said. "You remember coming in the locker room and being around these guys. That's the most special thing no matter what happens."
So he doesn't remember a single basket?
"One thousand and two, take your pick."