SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney knows the pain of losing an NCAA tournament game, even though he's never played in one.
McAlarney was stuck on the couch at home last year while the sixth-seeded Irish lost 74-64 to No. 11 Winthrop in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
McAlarney, who averaged 10.3 points as the Irish got off to an 11-1 start last season, was suspended from school for the second half of the season after being arrested on a marijuana possession charge.
He had to turn games when the Irish struggled because he felt helpless. The feeling was magnified as he watched his friends founder against Winthrop.
``I know that we could have done better and I know that I could have helped them maybe go further or win that game,'' McAlarney said. ``You know, at that point I was just trying to make it through that rough time and trying to survive. When I look back now, I've really come a long way, and now that I'm here, I'm really just enjoying the whole experience.''
That included watching the selection show with his teammates Sunday evening, when he saw that the 15th-ranked Irish (24-7) will face George Mason (23-10), the Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion that two years ago made a celebrated run to the Final Four.
McAlarney said last year's troubles have helped him to enjoy this year's success even more.
A first-team All-Big East selection, McAlarney led the league in 3-pointers with 103 and was second in the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 44.8 percent.
Before each game, he thinks about the pain he felt being on his own at home at year ago at this time.
``I'm really using that as fuel,'' McAlarney said.
He also used to get nervous before each game and let bad games bother him. He's still nervous before games - just not as nervous - and he doesn't let a bad game get to him.
``I just kind of feel more at ease out there. A bad game is just a bad game. It's not the end of the world because I'm still able to come back the next day and still play with this team and learn to get better,'' he said. ``It really helps me stay grounded and stay humbled and really focus on where I'm at, in the moment, and focus on each game at hand.''
Coach Mike Brey saw the difference in McAlarney when he returned to campus for summer school in June.
``He came back amazingly driven just because when you miss a whole Big East season and miss the NCAA tournament and miss the run that we had without him, I just think it drove him to make sure this team did it again with him on it,'' Brey said.
McAlarney feels he's at his best when he's playing with a chip on his shoulder, and opposing fans have added to that feeling. They've chanted ``pothead'' while he's taking free throws and held up signs making fun of his legal trouble. Remembering a sign at Georgetown that read: ``McAlarney slept through DARE'' still makes him laugh.
McAlarney expected those kind of responses from opponents. What he didn't expect was the warm reception he got from Notre Dame fans, who wrote to him while he was serving his suspension and urged him to stay strong.
``It really touches you and means a lot,'' he said.
He could have transferred and avoided at least some of the scrutiny he's faced this past year, but he's glad he didn't.
``I really wanted to come back to go through it and to face all of it and make me stronger,'' he said. ``I've been here for a while, so I'm way over it.''

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