Quality win in the bank

Irish suffer through sluggish start before exploding; then holding off Georgia, 89-83 in double overtime.

Notre Dame's 88-83 double overtime victory Thursday night in the Old Spice Classic was notable for three 2010 firsts, each relevant to what should be an arduous path toward a second straight NCAA Tournament bid.

  1. For the first time this season, Notre Dame faced not only a team with a NCAA Tournament aspirations, but one that served as its athletic superior. As a result, it was the first time the Irish couldn't simply rely on crisp ball movement to impose its will offensively.
  2. For the first time this season, Mike Brey's veteran squad was faced with adversity, trailing by 6 to 10 points for the contest's first 30 minutes; falling behind again prior to its last possession of the first overtime; and facing a three-point deficit late in the final OT session.
  3. And for the first time this season, Notre Dame nearly handed over a win they should have salted away in regulation, blowing a 62-56 lead with 0:43 remaining thanks to shaky free throw shooting by the team's best line marksmen.

The contest was one-sided early as Notre Dame was overwhelmed from the outset, just as head coach Mike Brey feared would be the case after a significant level jump in opposition.

"There's probably going to be a little adjustment period," Brey said Monday night following another blowout win, this time vs. overmatched Maine. "I just want to make sure we're ready. I've shown some of our veteran guys clips some clips of us rebounding last year vs. Pitt, Connecticut, and doing what we had to do to get in (the NCAA Tournament)."

The Irish fell behind by as many as 12, twice, including a halftime deficit of 37-25, a 20-minute span in which ND was beat by Bulldogs athleticism and uncharacteristic three-point accuracy.

Familiar with uphill climbs after last year's season ending run, the Irish embarked on a 20-4 run over an eight-minute stretch including a 14 to nothing burst to turn a 48-38 deficit into an 52-38 advantage at the 7:22 mark.

Brey's group maintained a four to six-point edge until the game's final minute when Georgia was granted a chance in regulation thanks to some shaky free throw shooting by the Irish as well as the team's inability to box out following free throws at the other end.

A split pair from the line by Tim Abromaitis; a botched pair by Tyrone Nash and six points off two offensive boards by Georgia sent the game into extra time at 62-62.

Back and forth

It was the first overtime period during which the veteran, confident Irish appeared to finally exert their will, scoring the session's first six points. But Georgia wouldn't go away, taking a 69-68 edge on a jumper by junior transfer Gerald Robinson.

But Ben Hansbrough's heady offensive board and ensuing tip-shot (without hitting the ground) with just over four seconds remaining sent the senior to the charity stripe with a chance to win the contest. The 76 percent career free throw shooter missed the first, but calmly drained the second to force another overtime period.

The failure to secure rebounds within their grasp in the extra sessions, coupled with the inability to finish plays at the rim nearly doomed Brey's group in the back-and-forth overtime periods.

Still the Irish led by three midway through the second extra session but a three point shot by Georgia's Dustin Ware and a sloppy turnover from senior transfer Scott Martin that led to a dunk at the other end afforded the Bulldogs a two-point advantage with under three minutes remaining.

From there freshman guard Eric Atkins, with help from game MVP Abromaitis stepped up, as the pair hit back-to-back three-point shots to turn a precarious 76-73 deficit into a 79-76 edge at the 1:35 mark.

A Travis Leslie offensive board and layup drew Georgia to within one but Atkins added a contested 10-footer from the baseline and Tyrone Nash, who had missed a crucial pair in regulation that would have sealed the contest, knocked down a pair to give ND a five-point lead with just under 40 seconds remaining.

Once again UGA came back, draining a wing triple by Ware before sending ND's Hansbrough back to the line for a pair with 27 seconds remaining. Hansbrough sank both for an 85-81 edge and after multiple shots at the other end; Abromaitis grabbed the game's biggest defensive rebound in heavy traffic, then put down a pair of freebies for a decisive 87-81 edge as Bulldogs finally ran out of time.

Steady throughout the contest, Abromaitis led all scorers with 25 points on just 11 field goal attempts. The senior knocked down 4 of 5 from long range and 9 of 12 at the foul line, a place the normally dead-eye Irish struggled at key time before knocking down 30 of 43 offerings.

Senior Pivot Tyrone Nash was the Irish offense early and during its mid-second half run, scoring a career-high 18 points on a variety of post-up moves and ensuing foul shots.

Though he fouled out in the first overtime period, senior big man Carleton Scott led the Irish in rebounds with 11 while nine of his 11 total points came during Notre Dame's crucial 20-4 run midway through the second stanza.

Georgia was led by Travis Leslie's 23 points and 9 boards. The high flying Bulldog was too much for the Irish underneath, converting on several vicious dunks while adding five steals to his stat line. Gerald Robinson, the former Tennessee State standout, added 16 points and 5 assists for the improved Dawgs.

UGA also received a boost from pre-season SEC Player of the Year candidate Trey Thompkins, who suited up for the first time this season after suffering a late-October ankle injury. Thompkins showed rust throughout the contest but his defensive presence inside was key to Georgia's late regulation comeback.

The junior finished with 13 points and 10 boards in 33 minutes.

The Irish received a necessary boost from the aforementioned point guard Atkins as the steadying freshman influence scored 7 of his 9 points in the game's second overtime while playing 38 minutes with just one turnover.

5-0 Notre Dame will take on 3-0 California today (Friday) at 5:00 PM (EST). The Golden Bears upset No. 20 Temple, 57-50 with a 16-1 run late in the contest.

The winner of that contest will meet the winner of the Boston College/Wisconsin semi-final in Sunday's championship contest.


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