This Irish team played a solid forty-minute game Monday night. They were in rhythm on offense and the defensive play never slacked off.
Things could have gone badly for the Irish as Torin Francis started the game but left early in the game with continued back problems. Instead of wilting, the team was bolstered by the play of Rick Cornett who scored six points and had seven rebounds in fifteen minutes of action - and played well defensively.
Chris Thomas was the leading scorer for the Irish, and game, with 31. He also had six assists which makes him the all-time leader in that category. Coach Mike Brey was very impressed with the performance of Thomas. "Fabulous. I'm very happy for him," said Brey. "It's a heckuva night to remember - the night you broke the assist record, you put 31 on the board, then was an absolute machine and quarterbacked the tempo, which I thought was important against them. We wanted to play a little bit slower. Again, we didn't know Torin's status. Obviously, we tried him but he's not ready, and we just have to get him healthy. I just thought between scoring, defending, and controlling the tempo, it was an easy game to coach for me because of how Chris played."
The first half was close throughout with each team making runs, and the biggest lead was six by UConn after the first five minutes of play. But the Irish cut this lead to two and three points the rest of the way and actually led by one at the eleven-minute mark. The last basket for the Irish in this half was a three-pointer by Chris Quinn with just over six minutes to go. However, clutch foul-shooting down the stretch by Thomas, Rick Cornett, and Jones enabled the team to go to the locker room only down by three, 35-38.
Going into this game, the Huskies were 16-0 this season when leading at halftime and 55-1 when leading at the break in the last three seasons.
Notre Dame shot 33.3 percent from the field but hit on 57.1 percent from three-point range, 4-7. From the foul line they shot 78.6 percent on 11-14.
The second half began as a carbon copy of the opening stanza with Connecticut keeping the lead by two-three and with their biggest lead being six. By keeping their poise and playing aggressive defense, the Irish took the lead 52-51 with fifteen minutes remaining. They pushed the lead to seven at one point but Uconn fought back and tied the game 69-69 with three minutes left. Thomas hit a three-pointer with two minutes and forty-five seconds left which put the Irish in the lead for good and led to the final score of 80-74.
The final stats showed the Irish shot 39.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the three-point line. They also hit on 20-29 foul attempts for 69 percent.
Chris Quinn bounced back from the last game in which he scored five points to knock down 17 and was strong on defense. He also silenced the crowd when he went down with an ankle injury in the second half and had to be helped to the locker room. After getting the ankle taped, Quinn returned to the court and received a loud standing ovation.
Torrian Jones had a double-double with 14 points and a team and game high 12 rebounds. Jones played outstanding defense and kept the Huskies off balance with his slashing drives to the basket.
Jordan Cornette played a steady thirty-five minutes on both ends of the court and ended with six rebounds and three points. Tom Timmermanns saw 24 minutes of action and battled the big guys from UConn under both baskets while contributing six points and six rebounds.
Coach Brey was all smiles after the game and stated, "That was a heckuva of a college basketball game tonight. I'm very proud of our group because of the great team they are. I thought we had control of the game and they made runs, but we kept our poise. The best we have done this year when a team has made a run at them. I thought our offensive tempo and decisions were excellent. And I thought our defense in the second half was excellent. We wanted to be a little more patient, not that we didn't stay patient previous to this, but we really stressed it and maybe we found something."Torrian Jones said the Irish had to stay focused to get the win. "At halftime we talked about staying positive and keeping our energy," said Jones. "We were down by three at halftime and I thought we played a great first half. We knew the backboards were where the game was going to be won. I think we did a good job of crashing them and not giving them second shots in the second half."
Tom Timmermanns was also excited after the big win. "It was a really good win over a really good team," said Timmermanns. "We lost a close game to Pittsburgh and we competed for forty minutes, and we just turned around and competed for forty minutes today. At halftime we talked about competing for the whole twenty minutes. Keep getting those loose balls and keeping them off the offensive boards and second chances. I think we limited that in the second half, and that kind of got us going."
Tom is also smiling because his parents are here from the Netherlands and getting the opportunity to see him play. He said, "My parents are very happy. My Dad got on the court after the game and came looking for me. So that was fun."
The Irish return to action Saturday, February 14, against Seton Hall at 12:00 PM.