SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — His coach called Juwan Durham’s performance Tuesday night the 6-foot-11 sophomore’s “coming-out party,” but Durham said it was more about circumstance than any particular corner he’s suddenly turned in his development.
“(Teammate John) Mooney fouling out,” Durham answered with a shrug of why he was able to come in and dominate during Notre Dame’s 76-74 win over Illinois before adding that “it was just awareness and being ready.”
Irish guards TJ Gibbs and D.J. Harvey scored 19 points each, and Durham sparked his team with all of his 10 points and five blocked shots in the second half, as ND held off the late-charging Illini in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup.
Trent Frazier’s 24-foot, solid-look 3-point try for Illinois narrowly rimmed out just before time expired.
“When it’s in the air, I’m thinking to myself if that goes in and we lose, I’ve got a lot of psyches to deal with,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of his young club, “because we played really hard. We were grinding against a hard style of play. So to escape, we’ll take it.”
“I thought (the last shot) was in,” said Illini coach Brad Underwood, who gave Frazier an extended hug after the miss. “I told Trent to keep shooting. I told (the team) I loved them, and our time’s coming.”
Durham, who sat out last season after transferring from Connecticut, registered a career high for points. Harvey’s total was also a career high and Gibbs’ a season high.
The Irish (6-1) won their fourth straight while Illinois (2-5) lost for the fifth time in six games.
“He was fabulous,” Brey said of Durham, who did his second-half damage in 12 minutes. Most of it was after Mooney, ND’s second-leading scorer on the season, fouled out with 9:19 to go.
“He changes stuff,” Brey added of Durham swatting away five shots to give him 15 blocks on the season in just 62 minutes. “I thought it was interesting to see him develop before our very eyes, where our team got so confident (in him) they were throwing it to him in the post. That’s new.”
Durham was 3 of 4 from the field and 4 of 8 at the line.
The Irish led 65-52 with 6:30 to go before the Illini mounted their rally that came up just short.
Aaron Jordan led Illinois with 23 points. Freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 22. Those were career highs for both players.
After a tight first half that yielded nine lead changes and a 35-34 Illini lead at the break, Notre Dame appeared like it might win in a runaway when it outscored Illinois 17-2 over a span of just under eight minutes.
That produced a 61-49 Irish lead with 6:48 remaining.
The Illini, though, battled right back behind Bezhanishvili and Jordan, who each scored 13 second-half points.
“We saw a glimpse of how good Giorgi can be,” Underwood said, “and we played with purpose on the offensive end.”
Notre Dame: Now the road gets rougher for the Irish, in part because it actually involves the road. Notre Dame wrapped up a string of seven straight home games to begin the season. The next three stops will be Oklahoma (5-1 entering Tuesday) as part of the Jimmy V Classic in New York City, a visit to UCLA (4-2, both its losses to top-11 clubs) and a matchup against No. 19 Purdue (5-1) in Indianapolis.
Illinois: In the lone true road test on their nonconference schedule (excludes neutral-site matchups), the Illini continued to show their futility away from Champaign over the last few years. They’ve not won a true nonleague road game since a 2014 NIT first-rounder — dropping eight straight since — and they were 1-8 in Big Ten road games last season.
Illini freshman Tevian Jones has been suspended indefinitely from game competition for a violation of team rules, Underwood announced before Tuesday’s contest.
The 6-foot-7 Jones, a four-star recruit from Culver City, California, was averaging 3.2 points, 1.7 rebounds and nine minutes while appearing in each of Illinois’ first six games.
Notre Dame freshman Robby Carmody never returned after suffering what Brey later described as a pinched nerve in the left shoulder area midway through the first half.
The coach said Carmody was cleared to return to the game in the second half, but whenever “I looked at him, he was cringing.”
Carmody went into the night averaging 5.5 points and 13.5 minutes per outing. Brey said he expects the swingman to be back for ND’s next practice Thursday.
Notre Dame: The Irish leave home for the first time all season when they face Oklahoma next Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Notre Dame has never played the Sooners.
Illinois: The Illini open Big Ten play Sunday at Nebraska as the conference becomes the first league in NCAA Division I history to play 20-game league schedules.
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