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March 1, 2013

Road to Milwaukee harrowing

The Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. The RAC at Rutgers. St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

All places where Notre Dame - and many others in the Big East - has struggled over the years.

One place stands out above the rest.

“It’s the toughest,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey of Saturday’s venue - the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee - where the Irish will take on No. 22 Marquette (20-7, 11-4). “Let me say this. There’s not a tougher place for us.

“They do such a great job at their place of presenting their game. There’s certainly some added juice when we come to town. They just don’t like us very much. They wait for us to come to town.”

The Golden Eagles have won 24 straight at home, including all 17 of their Big East games the last two seasons. The Irish have struggled mightily at MSG against St. John’s. The Orange in the Carrier Dome is no day at the beach. Notre Dame has been stung at the RAC on more than one occasion.

But for Notre Dame’s money, the Bradley Center is the most harrowing Big East experience. The last time the Irish were there - Jan. 10, 2011 -- Marquette mauled them, 79-57.

“I remember it as one of the louder places I’ve been,” said Irish point guard Eric Atkins who, as a freshman, scored 15 points in 35 minutes of action at the Bradley Center.

“They have a bunch of signs behind the basket. They do a good job with the crowd being a distraction, and then as a team, they get after it defensively.”

Backcourt mate Jerian Grant also was a freshman that year as the Irish preserved his first season of eligibility.

“Their crowd is great and they have one of the best student sections I’ve seen,” Grant recalled. “They were hitting shots and we didn’t adjust to it. You have to go in there and be able to keep your poise when they’re making shots. Just keep playing defense.”

Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder are gone, as is their combined 36 points per game. But the Golden Eagles are still pressuring the basketball and making life a living hell for visitors to the Bradley Center.

Four of Marquette’s home victories have been by double digits, including a 79-69 win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 16. The close ones have gone the Golden Eagles’ way as well. They claimed a 74-71 victory over Syracuse Monday and handed Georgetown one of its three Big East losses, 49-48, during the first week of January.

“Two years ago, they flat-out posted us and buried us with their big guys, and we’re dealing with it again,” Brey said. “If we don’t get better position, they’re going to beat us. They set the tone.”

Three years ago, the Irish closed the 2009-10 regular season with an unexpected 63-60 overtime victory with Luke Harangody contributing off the bench following a knee injury.

“We were really burning the whole game,” Brey recalled. “We controlled tempo, we kept it close, and we never let them get out and get in transition. We made it very much a half-court game. We still kind of play that way, even though it’s not full burn mode. We know when to shut the gears down and control the tempo.”

Notre Dame is 4-3 on the road in Big East play this season, including a 51-42 win over Pittsburgh on its last trip. The Irish are a more than respectable 14-11 away from home in the Big East the last three seasons.

“The main thing is just going into road games and being focused on the task at hand,” Atkins said. “I think where people get caught up is trying to play to the crowd, talking to the crowd, looking at the crowd

“Just stay focused and come together as a team on the road. You have to have great huddles because it’s really just you and your team out there. The refs are not going to help you out. Road wins feel even better as team wins.”

Notre Dame has had 45- and 29-game home winning streaks ended in recent years. The Irish would love to return the favor at Marquette’s expense.

“They’re really good at home,” Brey said. “It’s always a tough atmosphere. They will be ready for us. But this (Notre Dame) nucleus has shown that they love these kinds of atmospheres.

“I talked to our guys and we have had people snap our streaks. Maybe we can snap a streak.”


Martin shuts it down: Sixth-year senior Scott Martin’s long and winding college basketball career appears to have come to a close.

Returning to action last Friday to see where his ailing left knee was after nearly five weeks of inactivity, Martin and the Irish medical staff concluded that it isn’t going to work.

“He just wasn’t getting any better,” Brey told the South Bend Tribune after making the announcement during his weekly local radio show. “It was aching all the time. He said there’s a lot of pain. We just need to shut him down.”

Martin has missed the last nine games, during which the Irish have gone 7-2. Notre Dame’s best performance during that time was its last against Cincinnati Sunday when the Irish won by 21, played outstanding defense, and showed a better offensive flow than at any time during Martin’s absence.

“I really feel for him,” Brey said. “He was playing his best basketball for us early in the season. He tried like heck. It’s just not feeling right.”


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