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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame rides Durham's breakout game, escapes late against Illinois

Notre Dame pulled out a thrilling 76-74 victory over Illinois on Tuesday night, thanks, in part, to a huge performance by 6-foot-11 junior forward Juwan Durham.

Durham is a transfer from Connecticut, and has dealt with knee problems ever since tearing his ACL in his junior year of high school. After struggling to find a big role for the Irish in the first six games of the season, Durham broke out against Illinois, finishing with 10 points on 3-4 shooting to go along with five blocks.

Irish junior forward Juwan Durham attempts to tip the ball in during Notre Dame's 89-62 win over Chicago State on Nov. 8 at Purcell Pavilion.
Irish junior forward Juwan Durham attempts to tip the ball in during Notre Dame's 89-62 win over Chicago State on Nov. 8 at Purcell Pavilion.

“You just know that you always gotta stay ready no matter what, and if you let sitting out on the bench get to you, then you’ll never be ready, so you just have to stay ready and be motivated,” Durham said after the game. “It felt pretty good, I was just trying to help out the team as much as I could.”

Durham had a couple of huge blocks down the stretch to go along with a pair of game-changing three-point plays that helped solidify Notre Dame’s (6-1) win. While Durham’s performance had Purcell Pavilion on its feet, no one was more excited than Irish head coach Mike Brey.

“I am so proud of Juwan Durham. For him to come in and do that, he deserves it, and in the midst of it as I’m watching it and here they come making a run and I’m thinking, God don’t spoil this kid’s coming-out party. He was fabulous, and hopefully we can build on that,” Brey said. “A month ago I said to him, ‘you know, you have a healthy body and a healthy mind, you really have a chance to get better now.” He’s just missed so much, so I’m just thrilled for him, I’m really thrilled for him.”

Durham had such a good performance that Illinois head coach Brad Underwood noted his game-changing abilities on the defensive end.

“I thought that Durham was a huge, huge factor in the game, he had four or five blocks and a couple of and-ones down the stretch, so give that young man credit,” Underwood said.

When asked what it means for himself and the team after he gets a blocked shot, Durham responded that it’s a mental advantage over the opponent.

“They get a little nervous to come back down, and if they do wanna come back down, I’m gonna try to block them again, so I just try to put that fear in their hearts,” he said.

Sophomore forward D.J. Harvey quickly jumped in in support.

“My man, going for the record, you heard it here first,” Harvey said on the Notre Dame all-time blocks record in a season — currently held by former Irish forward Jordan Cornette.

Other notable performances for the Irish included 19 points from both Harvey and junior forward T.J. Gibbs. Harvey, who had struggled shooting the ball in Notre Dame’s past two games, found his stride down the stretch against Illinois (2-5) and was able to make some key buckets in the second half for the Irish. In response to how frustrating the past couple of games have been for him, Harvey explained his mindset on past poor performances.

“Very frustrating, I’m probably my hardest critic, so I stayed in the gym after hours. ... There’s always gonna be games like that, just gotta work on being more consistent, and just gotta build from here, and can’t harp on those last two games,” he said.

Harvey also explained that pulling out a win like this in a tight game down the stretch will translate well in games down the road.

“We practice those situations that we were in late every practice, so you know that carrying over to the game, us taking that seriously, and you know kinda not taking our foot off the pedal, because that’s what we kinda did, so just making sure we don’t do that moving forward, and you know just keep guarding and rebounding and our offense will come,” he said.

The Irish shot 57 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3 in the second half, catapulting them to victory. The one major sore spot for Notre Dame came at the free-throw line. The Irish shot just 50 percent (13-26) from the line in the second half, which allowed Illinois to stay in the game to the final second, when Illinois sophomore guard Trent Frazier’s potential game-winning 3-pointer rimmed out.

The Irish next travel to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to face Oklahoma for the first road game of the season.