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March 6, 2008

St. John's can't solve Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is relieved the Fighting Irish are done at home this season.

The 19th-ranked Irish beat St. John's 68-55 on Wednesday night to become the first Big East team to go undefeated at home in conference play in consecutive seasons. Brey said the streak gives the players confidence, but it made him sweat.

``That thing gets a little heavier every week,'' he said.

The Irish, who shot 54 percent from the field, extended their Big East home winning streak to 18, two shy of the league record set by Pittsburgh over three seasons, ending in 2004. The Irish extended their overall home winning streak to 37 games, one shy of the school record set from 1943-48.

``It gives next year's team a little something to think about in the summer because you can chase 20,'' Brey said.

But Brey was more focused on the present after the game. He said the halfcourt, grind-it-out pace against St. John's should help the Irish get ready for games later this month in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

``Their long offensive possessions makes you really concentrate defensively, and I thought we did a pretty good job concentrating on long possessions,'' he said.

The Fighting Irish (23-6, 13-4) opened a 10-point lead late in the first half and kept it in double digits most of the rest of the way. Kyle McAlarney, who finished with 13 points, hit a 17-foot jumper with 1:13 left to extend the lead to 68-50.

St. John's coach Norm Roberts said the Red Storm struggled against the Irish defense.

``I think they got out and they pressured a little big more and they were a little bit more physical,'' he said. ``We didn't do a good enough job of getting the ball to the basket.''

Anthony Mason Jr. had 16 points for the Red Storm (11-18, 5-12), who dropped their 22nd straight road game to a ranked team dating to 2002. St. John's needs to win its final home game against West Virginia on Saturday and for DePaul to lose at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to qualify for the Big East tournament.

St. John's managed to hold the Irish, who entered the game averaging 81.6 points, under 69 points for just the fifth time this season. But the Red Storm couldn't generate enough offense to stay competitive, shooting 41 percent.

St. John's cut the lead to 33-25 early in the first half when D.J. Kennedy scored inside. But the Irish regained control immediately when Rob Kurz converted on a three-point play and McAlarney hit a 3.

Luke Harangody led the Irish with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting and had six rebounds. He left the game late to get four stitches in his chin. He scored six points during an 8-0 run that opened a 29-17 lead with 4:45 left in the first half.

Kurz, who had 15 points, said he still can't believe the Irish haven't lost at home in two seasons.

``It's really unbelievable,'' he said.



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