Trip extra special for pair of Notre Dame men

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.

Hearing whispers right around this time last winter that Notre Dame might jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference sooner than anticipated, Irish junior captain Pat Connaughton had one thought.

If true, please let the league schedule-makers send Notre Dame to Boston College this college basketball season.

Once the ACC made that happen, Connaughton knew Notre Dame’s first visit Sunday to Conte Forum in over 10 years would be a road trip like no other in his collegiate career.

Boston College is a quick drive from Connaughton’s home in Arlington, Mass. He attended summer basketball camps on campus as a grade-schooler. Over Christmas break, he made the commute to catch up with Eagles guard and former Irish teammate Alex Dragicevich.

“It takes me about 10 minutes to get there,” Connaughton said.

Connaughton’s parents are regulars at nearly every Irish game, home or away. On Sunday, they will be joined by family and a few close friends. Like over 400. Maybe close to 500.

Seriously.

Connaughton lost track of the number of texts he received from friends this week that read simply, “I’m going!” There will be people in the arena stands that haven’t seen him play since he was earning Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior standout at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, others who have tracked every step of his collegiate career.

“It will be cool,” Connaughton said. “I’m excited for it.”

Once the ACC announced the regular-season schedule last summer, two of Connaughton’s aunts called the Boston College ticket office and each purchased 75 tickets. That covers only family members.

“It was chaos,” said Connaughton, an only child whose mother (Sue) is one of 10 children and whose father (Leonard) is one of eight. “My family has been hounding the BC ticket office since Day One.”

Irish players are allotted four tickets to road games. Connaughton has collected any extras from teammates like walk-on guard Patrick Crowley, who’s from Los Gatos, Calif. Connaughton’s parents and closest friends will get seats nearest the Irish bench. The others likely will invade the upper levels.

In addition to aunts and uncles and cousins, Connaughton will have people from his high school and his AAU team, the Middlesex Magic, in attendance. He has friends around Boston who love Boston College and cannot stand Notre Dame. He has others who love Notre Dame and cannot stand Boston College. All will share the same seating sections Sunday.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Connaughton. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be fun.”

But it’s not going to be so overwhelming that Connaughton loses sight of the biggest picture — help Notre Dame (13-12, 4-8) win a second-consecutive league game for the first time this season, which also would coincide with its first league road win.

Connaughton doesn’t plan on getting caught up in the hoopla of seeing so many family and friends, even though he guesses that they may give him a louder cheer than he gets back at home, because he’s traveled this road somewhat each of the two previous seasons.

As a freshman, Connaughton had a massive cheering section stake out the XL Center to watch Notre Dame beat Connecticut in downtown Hartford. Last February, that same swarm ventured south across the state line into Rhode Island to watch Notre Dame get pounded by Providence.

“Each year, we’ve gotten closer and closer to home until now, when it’s the closest you can get,” Connaughton said. “That’s helped me. It makes it easier to focus playing in front of people that I’ve grown up with, people that I’ve known my entire life and people that have been there through the good and bad.”

One of Connaughton’s uncles is close with Boston College senior associate athletic director John Cain. He’s helped coordinate a post-game picture in the stands for the Connaughton contingent. But will they have to fake a smile after 40 minutes?

“It’s that much more important to win the game,” Connaughton said.

Connaughton wasn’t the only Irish headed home this weekend. Sophomore power forward Zach Auguste hails from Marlborough, which sits 30 minutes west of the Boston College campus. Auguste attended games at Conte Forum as a middle-schooler. His mother, Lea Tzimoulis, bought a block of 50 tickets for family, while Auguste guesses another 100 friends plan to attend.

In addition, Auguste’s best friend and former teammate at New Hampton (N.H.) School is Boston College sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan.

“It’s going to be the best ever,” Auguste said of playing at Boston College. “My family is really happy to come out and support me because some of them haven’t been able to make the long drive (to Notre Dame).”

August believes he will give them reason to cheer. Coming off the first double-double for points and rebounds in his career (14 points, 12 rebounds) in Tuesday’s double-overtime victory over Clemson motivates the 6-foot-10 Auguste to prove that that effort where he was active and aggressive on both ends wasn’t a one-game wonder.

“I just have to keep the same mentality and stay focused and get better,” he said. “Go in there and be aggressive and attack. I did it last game and I know I can do it again, so I will.”

Notre Dame’s first road journey through the ACC has been a series of near-misses. It had chances — really good chances — to win at Georgia Tech, at Maryland, at Florida State, at Wake Forest, and, most recently, earlier this month at top-ranked Syracuse. But it’s been a bad beginning here, a bad end of the half or start of the second there. There have been struggles down the stretch. All the games have been close, but all the Irish have to show for them is an 0-5 road record with four games away from home still to go.

Auguste believes Sunday hinges on two areas — energy and resilience.

“We’ve always had it on the road,” he said. “We’ve been right there but we’ve just let it slip out of our hands.

“We can’t afford to do that anymore.”

TNoie@SBTinfo.com

574-235-6153

Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton pauses at the top of the key as Clemson's Rod Hall guards during their game Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

WHO: Notre Dame (13-12, 4-8 ACC) vs. Boston College (6-18, 2-9)

WHERE: Conte Forum (8,606), Chestnut Hill, Mass.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday

TV: ESPNU

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM)

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com/tnoieNDInsider.

WORTH NOTING: Boston College has lost three straight conference games (Virginia, Duke, Georgia Tech) since a 76-73 overtime loss Feb. 1 at Notre Dame. ... Olivier Hanlan’s basket gave the Eagles a 71-70 lead with three seconds left in Thursday’s game at Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets guard Marcus Georges-Hunt then hit a 3-pointer and a free throw with 0.7 seconds remaining for a 74-71 victory. Hanlan led the Eagles with 21 points. ... Boston College has lost four in a row and seven of eight with its last league win Jan. 29. ... Ryan Anderson scored 21 points with six rebounds in the first meeting against Notre Dame. The Eagles led by nine early in the second half, by seven with 9:28 remaining and by four with 58.2 seconds left before the Irish forced overtime, and then won on an Eric Atkins 3-pointer with two seconds to play. ... Boston College’s two league wins have come against Virginia Tech. ... The Eagles are 1-5 at home in league play. ... This will be Boston College’s third sellout (Syracuse, Duke) this season. ... Boston College averages 3,935 fans at home. ... Notre Dame leads the all-time series 12-10, but is 2-6 at Conte Forum. This is the first Irish visit since a 76-69 loss Feb. 4, 2004. The last Irish win was 101-96 in overtime Jan. 25, 2003. ... Notre Dame is 0-5 on the road in ACC play with an average margin of defeat of 5.6 points. ... Hanlan is third in the league in scoring (18.2). Atkins leads the league in minutes (38.0). ... Notre Dame is in 12th place in the ACC; Boston College is in 14th. ... This is the first of three league road games in seven days for Notre Dame.

WORTH QUOTING: “It’s going to be fun to let it rip there and get our first road win.” — Notre Dame junior captain Pat Connaughton, a native of nearby Arlington, Mass., on playing at Boston College.