The Irish thoroughly dismantled Kentucky last night in the type of complete performance we are becoming accustomed to under Mike Brey at the Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame shot lights out from three-point land (53%), defended as well as we have seen in a long time (Kentucky shot just 40% and turned the ball over 12 times), and did just enough on the boards (winning that battle, 28-26) to earn a surprisingly comfortable victory in which they led by as much as 20 in the second half.
Eric Atkins led the way on offense with 16 points and 4 assists to just 1 turnover. He was one of 4 Irish players in double figures, which included Jerian Grant (13 pts.), Jack Cooley (13 pts., 11 rbs.), and the best freshman on the court last night, Cam Biedscheid (10 pts.).
The real story was on the other end of the court, however, as Notre Dame's defense kept Kentucky's two leading scorers, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, to just 3 points apiece. Nerlens Noel needed a garbage time bucket just to get to 10 points, as he was neutralized most of the night by some scrappy inside play by Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman. Julius Mays stole the show offensively for the Wildcats, shooting 5-10 and scoring 16 points, but that was the plan all along for Mike Brey's squad in what was really an impressive defensive performance against an opponent with a lot more firepower and athleticism.
Kentucky got off to a better start, amassing an early 12-6 lead, but an Eric Atkins three midway through the first half made it 15-14 Irish, a lead that would balloon for the remaining 30 minutes. An 11 point halftime lead turned into a 20 point lead with ten minutes left, and Notre Dame put it in cruise control from that point onward.
Notre Dame, despite being unranked and taking on a top ten team, was actually a two point favorite in this one. That's probably because Vegas knows just how good the Irish have been at home under Mike Brey.
This was Notre Dame's 41st victory in their last 42 home games, the lone loss coming to 16th-ranked Connecticut last season. This is a stretch that includes victories against every Big East team including, of course, top-ranked Syracuse last January. This is likely their best non-conference victory in that stretch, as Gonzaga is really the only quality win in that department.
This stretch follows a school record 45-game winning streak at home from 2006 to 2009. Needless to say, the Irish hoopsters enjoy life in South Bend, where all these streaks have resulted in a 106-7 record since the start of the 2006 season. The quantity of wins is matched by quality, as during Brey's tenure, Notre Dame has a 12-6 home record against teams ranked in the top ten.
It's hard to explain what about playing in the Purcell Pavilion has this effect, as the noise level certainly doesn't match that of, say, Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Allen Fieldhouse, but these records at home are unmatched by anyone in the country during these past few years. I guess it doesn't hurt when your 6th man includes Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and the rest of the undefeated Irish football players who were in attendance for last night's big victory.
Notre Dame should not have a very tough stretch through the remainder of their non-conference schedule before Big East play begins, as Purdue is the only major conference test in the remaining five games. Then, the Irish will host Seton Hall to kick off the conference season. Starting Big East play at home? Just how Mike Brey and the Irish hoopsters like it.