Villanova seminary student and standout Catholic blogger, Michael Hallman, was right to circle January 26th on his calendar. The soon-to-be priest knew that Notre Dame was invading 'Nova on that day and while the Irish had proved a formidable opponent at home where they have won 31 straight, they had yet to win a Big East game on the road, and SURELY that would never happen against the 18th-ranked Wildcats.
But yesterday, Michael, as so many others who rooted against the Irish have learned, found out you never say never with Notre Dame.
Buoyed by a starting lineup change by Coach Mike Brey, the Irish, who fell behind big early on the road to both Marquette and Georgetown, came out smoking and virtually never frailed. Zach Hillesland, starting for the slumping Ryan Ayers, scored only two, but played with passion, while in turn, Ayers looked relaxed coming off the bench, scoring 10 including two key three-pointers.
But the big story for the Irish was the usual two suspects, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, alias Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney. While Luke was pounding away in the paint connecting on 8-of-14 from the field and 9-of-13 from the line (totalling 25 points and 10 rebounds), Kyle was bombing away from the perimeter, connecting on 10-of-15 shots (including 5-for-8 three-pointers), for a game high 30, earning the praise not only of Brey, but from 'Nova coach Jay Wright. "McAlarney was just awesome," conceded Wright. "He hit daggers anytime we even thought about being close."
The Irish led by 10 at the half, and increased the lead to 17 before Brey called the dogs off the 'Cats. Villanova star Scottie Reynolds finished with 13, but thanks to the Irish D, had only one field goal in the first thirty-six minutes, before the Irish put in the subs. Although Notre Dame had nineteen less shots from the field than Villanova, the Irish (shooting 52 percent) made only five less than the cold Cats. Meanwhile the Irish more than made up the margin at the charity stripe taking twenty-six more shots from the free throw line than their stunned hosts, something almost unheard of in beastly Big East play.
"I was happy to see we had a little edge in us," said Coach Brey afterwards, "I guess it's my job to keep them (ticked) off on the road for the next two months." Either that, or put a replica of the Dome and grotto (as well as a rosary) in each of his player's road lockers ...