Warm-up Stage Complete

With a date vs. Georgia in the Old Spice Classic looming, Mike Brey's Irish cruised to 4-0 behind an early three-point blitz of Black Bears

A 14-0 run over span of three minutes and 25 seconds early in the first half was all Notre Dame needed to distance themselves from a competent Maine group Wednesday night en route to a 97-72 Irish victory at the Purcell Pavilion.

The home team road a perfect offensive first half from previously struggling senior Tim Abromaitis whose 17-point opening stanza included marks of 5-5 from the field (3-3 from long range) and 4-4 from the charity stripe.

Outstanding ball movement vs. the Black Bears first half zone buoyed the Irish to leads of 19-9, 25-11 and 33-15 en route to a 52-34 edge at the break.

Maine had crept to within two at 11-9 before Notre Dame's decisive six field goal, 14-point run in which Abromaitis had a hand in every play:

  • Three 3-point buckets while assisting on another
  • A 10-foot pull-up courtesy of a timely shot fake
  • Finally, a frontcourt steal that led to a Carleton Scott 3-point goal to cap the eye-opening rally.

"That was an awesome display for awhile of shooting 3s," noted Black Bears head coach Ted Woodward. "They're so skilled and their so big around the perimeter. They really do a great job spreading you out and you have to play great one-on-one defense all the way around; that's probably the best way to have a chance to stop them."

When it rains it pours

Last February 24 following an upset home win over Pittsburgh, IrishEyes noted Abromaitis' rank as the nation's best shooter, with an aggregate trio of percentages in excess of 190 (field goals, free throws and three-point shots).

Murphy's law (or the law of averages coupled with tired legs) took over from there as the sharpshooter finished the season an abysmal 3 for 31 from long range. That puzzling skid continued through the first three games this season with a 4-24 opening slump.

Wednesday night he connected on his first seven field goals including the first three from long range, before finally missing midway through the 2nd half. Two possessions later, the stroke returned as Abro nailed a right wing three on a feed from freshman point guard Eric Atkins. Nine shots, just over 24 game minutes, and eight made buckets for a total of 24 points before the 11:00 minute mark of the second half.

Slump over.

"I felt the flow I guess. That's something I keep try to do is move into shots," Abromaitis said of the variety of backdoor buckets intermixed with free-flowing form on his jump shots. "It gets me open but also into rhythm. Combining moving along the perimeter and also cutting inside should also help in the future."

Finishing the drill

Patience and ball movement propelled the Irish again in the second stanza. A Scott-to-Nash-to-Martin connection resulted in a layup; consecutive looks from senior penetrator Ben Hansbrough set up teammates for a dunk and three-point bucket on back-to-back possessions, before two inside scores (Hansbrough on a drive and Tyrone Nash earning two at the foul line) were later complimented by a corner 3-pointer and yet another backdoor layup for the coolly efficient starting five.

Now consider that difficult-to-process paragraph took slightly less than five game minutes to complete while the Irish extended from 15 to a 21-point advantage.

Shortly thereafter, the Jack Cooley show officially began.

The sophomore big man from Glenbrook South (Chicago) took over in a three-minute span few followers of the program last season would imagine possible.

Note the following barrage of Cooley-concentrated action directly from my game notebook:

  • Cooley with two dribbles in the post and a turn over his left shoulder for 4-foot jump hook off the glass.
  • Rejection by Cooley (ball out Gate 10)
  • (Tyrone) Nash baseline move and whip pass to Cooley. Collects himself for jump hook in lane.
  • Alters a shot at the other end, then finishes a left-handed jump hook in close plus the foul. Hits FT.
  • Defensive board Cooley.
  • Blocked shot Cooley. Missed left-handed jump hook by Cooley
  • (Joey) Brooks drive and bounce pass to Cooley for huge baseline dunk and 30-point lead.

The competition was admittedly inferior, but that string of five-minute action is rarely seen from a still-developing big man in the program.

Cooley's emphatic rejection noted above ranked as the top crowd-pleasing moment of the contest.

"Oh yeah, that got me pretty hyped," Cooley said before adding of the team's interior passing that helped him collect a career-best 13 points, "It helps so much (Nash) always makes strong moves to get fouled so they have to double him. As you said, he's one of the best passing big men in the game."

Mercy killing, Part III

Monday's convincing win ends the opening quartet of laughers for the potent Irish. Point totals of 98, 72, 102 and 97 are impressive on paper, but its noteworthy that the three high totals of the grouping could have easily exceeded the century mark (and in the case of the 102-point outburst vs. Chicago State, somewhere in the neighborhood of 110) had the Irish not taken mercy on their foes.

Last night, Notre Dame hit the 84-point mark with 10 minutes remaining.

"We were very efficiently offensively. It's a pretty confident offensive group," noted head coach Mike Brey. "They're older guys, highly skilled, and the advantage we have is they've been in our system and in our program three or four years and they've been in college four or five years. It's a huge advantage."

Abromaitis led all scorers with 26 points missing just one shot from the field while knocking down all six of his free throw attempts.

As a team the Irish connected on 25 of 27 free throws (they hit 24 of 27 earlier this season vs. Liberty) with the senior Nash again leading the way to the party line. For the second time this season Nash attempted double-digit free throws, this time connecting on 11 of 12 after a 12-15 effort vs. Liberty two games prior.

"Not off the top of my head," Brey said when asked if he's coached a more improved free throw shooter. "He spent a lot of time with it, he really did. He was afraid of the line; didn't want to go there in his early years. But he's come a long way working on his game."

Nash was one of six Irish players in double figures though no Notre Dame player attempted more than nine field goals en route to their 97-point total.

Ben Hansbrough finished his first off-shooting night of the season (2-7) with 11 points but nonetheless controlled the game with nine assists and just three turnovers in a team-high 30 minutes.

Also joining the festivities after a one-game absence due to back spasms (and two prior to ineffective play) was senior transfer Scott Martin. The former Purdue starter knocked down 6 of 8 shots for 15 points while contributing five defensive boards.

"I've always been confident it just hadn't fallen," Martin said of his mini-slump. "It happens, you go through a rough stretch here or there but you know they're going to go in."

Rounding out the effort was senior athlete Carleton Scott who scored 9 of his 11 points on three first half 3-pointers.

The Black Bears placed three in double figures with junior Gerald McLemore leading the way with 16 points while Troy Barnies added 15 and Raheem Singleton managed 12 in 27 minutes.

Stats and stuff

  • Referenced above for Tim Abromaitis is the Holy Grail for shooters: an aggregate 180 percentage when a player's field goal, free throw and three-point percentages are totaled. Last night as a team, the Irish qualified for the absurd and unheard of 217-Club, hitting 57.7 of their field goal attempts, 92.6 of their free throws and 66.7 percent (12-18) from beyond the arc.

  • The Irish have converted 87 of 113 free throws through four games (77.0 percent) while averaging 17.8 rebounds per game more than their four foes.

  • Maine native Tom Knight hit one of two shots for the Irish in six minutes off the bench vs. his home state program.

  • Notre Dame's next game will tip-off at 7:00 on Thanksgiving Night vs. Georgia in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic. The three-round, four-day Orlando event will be televised by ESPNU and includes Temple, California, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and Boston College among its set of possible Irish foes.

    The winner of the ND/UGA game will face either Temple or California (as will the loser). Should the Irish finish 2-0 on Thursday and Friday they'd advance to the tournament's title game Sunday.

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