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February 24, 2009

Up with Peoples

Jonathan Peoples may find a cane in his locker today.

That's because the story of this junior's "old man body" is out after last weekend's career performance at Providence, the kind of late-February effort that could course correct Notre Dame's season. Against the Friars the junior finished with career-highs of 14 points and nine assists, both personal aberrations.

Maybe it just took Peoples four months to get his game loose. After all, his practice performances are typically on tape delay with a warm-up routine that resembles something from a pick-up game at the YMCA.

"He's not coming close to the rim in lay-up lines, put it that way, when we start things out," said Zach Hillesland. "He's a very talented guy. I think we've found something there and hopefully we can keep it going."

The Irish (15-11, 6-8) need it during the season's final four games, which start Wednesday with Rutgers coming to the Joyce Center. A road trip to No. 2 Connecticut follows. Home dates with No. 10 Villanova and St. John's await. Win three and the Irish can score an at-large NCAA bid with a respectable showing in the Big East Tournament.

Peoples may not be the key to delivering the Irish into their preferred postseason, but he can help unlock a bid. The effort at Providence, made possible by Tory Jackson foul trouble, proved it. Peoples' nine assists eclipsed his total for the entire Big East season.

It was enough to make this veteran feel young.

"He's kind of always limping around like an old man," said Kyle McAlarney. "We make jokes all the time about that. Once he gets in the flow of a game, he's really good."

Peoples received more than a dozen congratulatory messages after Providence, but his steps forward started a few days earlier with eight points in Notre Dame's loss at West Virginia. Now Peoples, who Mike Brey called the team's best passer and highest basketball IQ, feels a new shot of confidence.

"Everybody's just been telling me good game today in classes," Peoples said. "I kind of like that. I hope I get used to that."

It beats the alternative.

Not much has changed in Peoples' game during this mini-run other than his expression. The distant third member in a recruiting class with Jackson and Luke Harangody, Peoples has been frustrated since signing with Notre Dame out of St. Joseph High School, where he was coached by the legendary Gene Pingatore.

Peoples has started just two games in his career, both falling during Notre Dame's seven-game skid this season. Before last weekend he'd gone more than a year between hitting for double figures.

"I just try not to have frustration on my face, like coach always said, 'Don't let anyone know that you're frustrated,'" Peoples said. "I don't want him to know that I'm frustrated either. I try to keep a smile on my face and support the others."

Does Peoples ever get caught frowning?

"Yeah, there have been multiple times," he laughed.

Or maybe it was a scowl. Seems more fitting for a junior aged beyond his years.



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