The game began at a slow pace for both teams, which actually favored St. Louis as coming into the game they were ranked 11th nationally in points allowed at 59.2.
The play in the half was highlighted by tough hard-nosed defense by both teams, with neither team getting into a smooth scoring rhythm. The teams took turns building small leads only to see the other team come back and go on top, with the Billikens managing to take a one-point lead, 26-25, into the locker room.
Although play in the first half did not result in a lot of scoring, the highly partisan fans were happy to see their Irish team play in Fort Wayne. Coach Brey's reaction to seeing the Irish fans, "I've been in college-coaching a long time and that is one of the best atmospheres that I've ever been in," said Brey. "To come out and look up and we have green shirts all the way to the ceiling, there is no question it motivated our kids and our kids were excited to play. The roar we got when our kids were introduced was fabulous. I am staggered by the support that this community gave us."
The Irish shot 40.7 percent, on 11-27, and St. Louis finished the half at 42.9 percent, 12-28. Chris Thomas led the Irish at this point with 12 and each point was hard-earned as St. Louis challenged him to score. This was a challenge Thomas would accept in the second half.
The second half began pretty much like the first with each team trading baskets and taking small leads only to see them disappear. This script continued until the 11:36 mark when the Irish opened a seven-point spread, 48-41. From this point on, the Irish took command of the game, pushing the lead into double digits and increasing the margin to 17 a couple of times.
The Irish defense sparkled throughout the second half, but it was the offensive show of Chris Thomas that highlighted this stanza and the game. Having scored 12 in the first half, Thomas scored 27 in the second half for a game and personal best 39 points. During one stretch, he scored 11 straight. How good was Thomas? "He was phenomenal." said Billikens coach Brad Soderberg. "I don't think we defended him poorly, he just made some NBA-type shots."
Brey also chipped in on Thomas's play. "This is a unique basketball player and he has to have some freedom to play," said Brey of Thomas. "The textbook stuff doesn't always go with this young man. He makes us more confident. Our players were very confident tonight because he was playing and he was scoring. He had that look in his eyes."
Notre Dame ended up hitting 51 percent from the floor, 25-49, including 8-of-21 from three-point range. Following Thomas in the scoring column was Torrian Jones with nine, Chris Quinn had eight, and Jordan Cornette and Rick Cornett each contributed seven. Jordan was the leading rebounder for the Irish with eight, and he also had four blocked shots. As always, foul shooting is a huge factor in a game and the Irish were on target tonight hitting 19-24 for 79.2 percent.
The Irish, 19-12, return to the Joyce Center Thursday night to continue the journey toward an NIT Championship. They will play the winner of Tuesday night's game between James Mason and Oregon. Tip off Thursday will be at 7:00 PM EST.