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March 6, 2009Zach Hillesland doesn't plan to shed many tears tonight.
Then again, Rob Kurz didn't last year either during his final home game. Then the stoic forward delivered a post-game speech and stuttered through teary locker room interviews. So in an unpredictable year, Hillesland knows his last regular season game at the Joyce Center may not go as emotionally planned.
"Who knows when they call my name out and I walk out with my mom and sister," Hillesland said. "I think I'll have my emotions in check but you never really know until you get out there."
A win against St. John's wouldn't re-inflate Notre Dame's NCAA tournament bubble, but it would let the four man class of Hillesland, Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller finish with some style. Avenging a shock January loss to the Red Storm - one the players admit still weighs on the team - would mean this class went 39-31 in Big East play with a 20-game home court win streak in the conference along the way.
Not that those numbers will be worth more than media guide mention.
When Ayers leaves the court for the last time he'll think more about how his friendship with Hillesland and McAlarney was born from candy. Early in their bond, one that's developed into apartment tri-habitation, that pair slipped Ayers a Warhead and let the guard's face pucker. Ayers enjoys sour candy as much as a double team.
The pranks stepped up over the years, continuing last weekend at Connecticut when Hillesland hid in Ayers' hotel closet after a team meal. The unsuspecting three-point shooter walked right into the trap. It seems Ayers scares easily.
"Yeah, I do. When it's unexpected who doesn't?" he laughed. "That's probably the biggest reason why I came here, because of them."
Beyond the sadness of closing out the season and the awkward feeling they'll be back at the Joyce Center for an N.I.T. game in two weeks, McAlarney admitted to a straight sickness about tonight.
"Just thinking this is my last game here, it physically makes me sick to my stomach," he said. "I actually almost threw up the other day thinking about it, literally.
"This place really means a lot to me. And this program means a lot to me. It's pretty much been my whole life since the time that I was here. The emotions are going to be flying pretty high on Friday."
The seniors dined at coach Mike Brey's home earlier this week, rehashing their careers that included two NCAA tournament runs including last year's 14-4 finish in the Big East. This season's disappointments won't be swept under the rug by sentimentality, but the group would rather focus on senior night than the probable disappointment coming on Selection Sunday.
"It hurts that we kind of can't have as good of a season now as we wanted to as far as the record goes," McAlarney said. "There's still some opportunities. Me, I want us to be remembered as Notre Dame guys and four-year guys. We made the program better. We set good examples for the younger guys."
Zeller put a more homespun take on closing out the season.
"My parents always told me if you ever borrow anything or you're ever at some place, make sure you give it back better than it was before," he said. "I hope I gave it back better than it was when I got here."