Fitzgerald Field House might be foreign territory to most Notre Dame basketball players, but it is familiar ground for Fighting Irish sophomore guard Matt Carroll.
Carroll lived in Wexford until the age of 14 and made a number of trips to the aging facility to check out Pitt’s Jerry McCullough, Orlando Antigua and Co. as a youngster.
‘Me, my dad and my grandfather used to go (games) together,’ Carroll said Friday afternoon. ‘Who would have thought that I’d be playing there as a college player years later?’
Carroll returns to his old stomping grounds tonight when Notre Dame (13-5, 5-2 Big East) takes on Pitt (12-7, 4-4) at Fitzgerald Field House in front of a sellout crowd.
The Fighting Irish are in the midst of a four-game winning streak, which, coincidentally, began with a 16-point drubbing of the Panthers in South Bend, Ind., a little more than two weeks ago.
Carroll would love more than anything to keep the streak alive in front of more than 150 friends and family.
‘My dad’s buddy bought 100 tickets himself,’ said Carroll, who scored five points on 1-of-4 shooting last season in his first collegiate game at Fitzgerald, where the Irish dropped a 72-66 decision to the Panthers. ‘I’ll enjoy playing in front of everybody. It motivates me to be back there.’
Carroll, the grandson of North Catholic High School coaching legend Don Graham and a former ballboy at Duquesne, left Pittsburgh in 1995 when a job promotion forced his father, John, to move the family to suburban Philadelphia.
He played his high school ball at Hatboro-Horsham and, soon after, a legend was born. He became the only athlete in state history to twice be named the Associated Press Player of the Year, and his 2,667 career points placed him second in southeastern Pennsylvania scoring history behind Kobe Bryant.
He arrived at Notre Dame last fall with great expectations and didn’t disappoint. He averaged 9.8 points per game as a freshman in helping the Irish to their first 20-win season in 11 years and to a runner-up finish in the NIT.
This season, the 6-foot-6 Carroll is the Fighting Irish’s resident sniper, a veritable dead-eye from 3-point range. He is 43 of 95 from behind the arc and is second in the Big East in 3-point shooting percentage at .453. He averages 12.4 points per game, to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
‘I can’t say enough about what he brings to this team,’ said first-year coach Mike Brey. ‘He does everything so well.’
Carroll doesn’t receive much publicity in South Bend because his teammate, junior forward Troy Murphy, is arguably the best all-around player in the conference, if not the country. It is a situation that Carroll, who was the center of attention throughout his prep career, takes in stride.
‘I knew when I came here that Troy was the star and I don’t have any problem with that,’ Carroll said. ‘I know my role on this team, and I know Troy can take us places.’
And when Murphy needs a lift, Carroll is there to provide it. Carroll scored 22 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range against Loyola (Chicago), rang up 18 points in a loss to Seton Hall and had 16 points versus Tennessee Tech. In the Fighting Irish’s encounter with Pitt earlier this season, Carroll had nine points and was 3 of 6 from behind the 3-point line.
He provides a perfect complement for a potent Notre Dame front line, which features Murphy (23.1 points per game), Ryan Humphrey (15.0) and David Graves (14.6).
‘I feel like I’ve come a long way from my freshman to sophomore year,’ Carroll said. ‘It’s not just confidence, but it’s just knowing what to expect and understanding things better. Even things like budgeting time for class work and everything else that goes into being a college player, I have an understanding of that now.’
Carroll hit a minor bump in the road this past offseason when Matt Doherty announced he was leaving Notre Dame after one season to coach at his alma mater, North Carolina. Carroll feared that all the hard work of the previous season would fall to pieces, but that fear was put to rest with the hiring of Brey, who spent the previous five seasons at Delaware.
‘He’s made the transition easy,’ Carroll said. ‘I actually have more freedom in his system, and every offensive player loves to have that. It was more structured with Coach Doherty, whereas now I can do a little more. I feel very comfortable with everything that’s going on here.’
Perhaps even comfortable enough to put on a show tonight in front of the hometown folks.
‘I won’t force anything, but it would be nice to have a good game with so many people I know sitting in the stands,’ Carroll said. ‘I can’t wait to get there.’