Jones Defends His House

It's Big East Conference season, though you never would have been able to tell by the drowsy, generally sparse Irish home crowd Wednesday. In the end, Notre Dame and Torrian Jones gave everyone a reminder why this team has qualified for three straight NCAA finds a way to win. Don't underestimate this team writes IrishEyes Magazine Managing Editor Alan Tieuli, courtside at the Joyce Center.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™ Magazine

January 7, 2004

Raves for Jones;
 Needed Victory for Irish

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

NOTRE DAME, IN (IE) – The skepticism weighed heavy in the air. 

A somnolent Joyce Center crowd of 8,643 – the lowest Big East Conference game gathering in the four seasons of the Mike Brey-era – sat more as a jury than supporters, ready to find Notre Dame guilty of underachievement.  Losing the league opener to a pesky but beatable West Virginia team would give this perspective-challenged gathering reason to hoot and consider the Irish season doomed. 

After all, what had Notre Dame done to earn respect in a mediocre 6-3 non-conference start to the season?  Hadn’t the Irish entered this game with the lowest Ratings Percentage Index (167) of any of the Big East teams? 

But hasn’t Brey directed this team to three consecutive 10-win Big East seasons and a same number of NCAA Tournament appearances?  Shouldn’t he be cast the benefit of the doubt? 

Well, Notre Dame didn’t bring the disbelievers to their feet on this night – the 63-52 victory over West Virginia did have moments of stupefying boredom.  But in the big picture Irish supporters had to be at least momentarily appeased, if not downright satisfied. 

After all, what’s not to like in a performance that featured the following: 

n       The Irish defense falling just short of its team record for points allowed in a Big East game (51 versus Seton Hall in a 60-51 triumph on Jan. 26, 2002).

n       Senior swingman Torrian Jones matching his career high in points (17) while securing career bests in offensive rebounds (seven), total rebounds (14) and minutes played (38).

n       Big man Torin Francis controlling the inside with 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks as Notre Dame crushed the Mountaineers off the boards, 43-26.

n       And Chris Quinn providing a needed offensive spark, nailing all three of Notre Dame’s three-pointers in the second-half to keep the margin comfortable. 

“And, don’t forget,” pointed out Irish point guard Chris Thomas, “we’re 1-0 in the Big East now.  That’s the key thing.  We’re ready for the most important three months of basketball of our lives.” 

There can be no understating the importance of the Irish winning this game.  Saturday, Brey’s team travels to Villanova, the only team in Big East play it has never beat (0-8).  Next Monday, it’s Big Monday at undefeated Pittsburgh.  Then there is a Jan. 17 home date versus defending national champion Syracuse.  Lose this game and an 0-4 start is quite possible.  But a victory creates a different perspective, even if Brey is still uncertain himself what type of team he has. 

“You know,” he admitted post-game, “I don’t know what our team is.  Not yet.”  But he’s getting a picture, and he knows that to be successful Jones – the senior captain – has to be very involved. 

“I was talking to him on the phone over (holiday) break, and then quite a bit when everyone got back here,” Brey said.  “We have to just getting back to simplifying his role.  Get on the backboard, get us defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds.  He really got into a flow doing that.  He got comfortable in the basketball game rebounding the ball.” 

And Jones also got comfortable hounding the bejeezus out of West Virginia sharpshooter Drew Schifino.   The junior forward entered having scored in double figures in 48 consecutive Mountaineer games, a record even NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West couldn’t match in his time in Morgantown.  That record is kaput.   Jones held Schifino to nine points in 27 points, doing an excellent job of denying the ball.

“(Jones) grabbed me as soon as we got into the locker-room and said ‘Hey, did we snap it.  How many did he get?’,” related Brey. 

“Oh yeah, I knew about the streak big-time,” said Jones.  Schifino is from Pittsburgh and his AAU teams battled Jones’ Philadelphia-area squads while they were in high school. 

“I’m familiar with him, he’s familiar with me,” Jones said. “I tried to get into his head a little bit, talking a little trash.  Maybe it worked.” 

Also working was Jones’ offensive game.  He was seven-for-eight from the field, all but one of the shots point blank in the flow of the offense.  Jones glided and played above the rim, reminiscent in some ways of Syracuse’s Hakim Warrick, a player who in pre-season he admitted he admired for his steady collegiate improvement. 

“I know it’s my turn to lead now,” said Jones. “Putting up good numbers in this game was important.  It shows what I’m capable of, what the team is capable of.” 

Jones’ production did mask some Irish trouble spots.  The squad shot just three-for-19 on three-pointers and Thomas was just five-for-17, with oft-questionable projectile selection.  But West Virginia couldn’t take advantage of the bricks because of Jones and Francis. 

“I would take Torrian Jones any day of the week,” said West Virginia head coach John Beilein. “He’s a terrific player and he set the tone.  And I don’t think our guys up front have seen anybody like Torin Francis this year.  I don’t know if we’ve ever been able to rebound weak side against (Notre Dame).” 

Actually, West Virginia hasn’t been able to do much of anything against the Irish in recent Big East player.  The Irish have won the last nine meetings.  Pity this is the only regular season meeting in the newly aligned conference schedule. 

“Torrian’s work ethic rubbed off on us,” said Francis who is now 27-for-40 in field goals his last four games (all Irish victories).  “Now we have to maintain it during a tough road trip.” 

Notre Dame never trailed in this contest, scoring the first bucket and bolting out to an 11-4 edge by the first TV timeout.   West Virginia never got closer than five the remainder of the half and went into intermission down 33-25.  Francis (13) and Jones (10) were the production leaders. 

Quinn hit Notre Dame’s first three at 14:10 of the second-half to expand the lead to 11 (38-27) and the game was put away when Quinn hit another and Jones followed with an old-fashioned three in the paint with a foul.  That flurry made it 48-32 with 9:25 to go. 

And the night ended with spectacular praise for Jones from Brey.

 “Torrian has played behind David Graves, Matt Carroll and Dan Miller here,” said Brey. “And none of those three guys gave us what Torrian Jones gives us.” 

One suspects that Brey is referring to athleticism, something that the Irish are going to need to win back the skeptics.   This was a nice start.


IRISHEYES GAME NOTES:  OK, we’ll admit it, this space is a fan of West Virginia’s Kevin Pittsnogle (for his game as much as his name).  So it was kind of puzzling why the 6-10 sophomore only saw 13 minutes of action while scoring a team-high 15 points. “I was kind of surprised to see him only go that long,” Brey admitted…….Brey said his team took on “almost a football mentality” in preparing for West Virginia since arriving back on campus last Friday.  The team held some two-a-day sessions and focused primarily on preparing for the Mountaineers.   “We got use to the (slow) rhythm of their offense,” Brey said……Colin Falls again started for the Irish but only saw nine minutes.  Quinn took all the minutes at the 2-spot in the second half and had the ball in his hands at the one in the final two minutes as the Irish milked the clock…..Rick Cornett played his first game his breakout performance against DePaul on Dec. 14, but was limited to three minutes.  Center Tom Timmermans was not sharp in 10 minutes…..Is Brey worried about Thomas’ five-for-17 shooting?   “Let him shoot,” Brey said, “I think he understands that the most important thing now is wins, and he needs to run our team with confidence.”  Thomas had a solid line – seven assists, eight rebounds and only three turnovers…..West Virginia only turned the ball over eight times, an unusually low number for a team that scored only 52 points.  That’s further evidence to how effective the Irish were in their half-court defense.  “We’re not going to be the type of team to turn you over,” said Jones. “But we’re committed to being patient on defense, toughing it out, winning every possession.”……Tip-off Saturday at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia is 12 noon.    The last two visits there were dreadful – an 85-58 loss in 1999 and an 86-69 setback in 2000.  This will be Brey’s first visit in ND blue and gold to Villanova.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes Magazine and can be reached at  For subscription information on IrishEyes Magazine please visit or call 888-501-5752) Top Stories