What a Debut! Thomas Thrills ND

For you football fans visiting campus this weekend, a "triple-double" is not some sort of blitzing scheme. It's a basketball term, but one never breathed before at the Joyce Center. Then again, it's been a long time since the old building has seen a point guard as electric as Chris Thomas. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli writes on Thomas' debut performance tonight versus New Hampshire. Wow!

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

November 16, 2001

Wow! Times Three

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

Chris Thomas is the first Notre Dame basketball player ever to wear the number one.  Do you think he deserves it?


At a football school on a game weekend, Thomas won over the campus with the first triple-double in school history – 24 points, 10 assists and a school record 11 steals, leading the Irish to a 95-53 season-opening victory over New Hampshire at the Joyce Center.


“We’re quick,” said head coach Mike Brey.   “We have to be.  We have to keep up with Chris.”


Thomas, Mr. Indiana at Indianapolis Pike High School last winter, was outstanding from the get-go in his first collegiate start.  He notched seven steals in the first-half, tying a school record for swipes in a game (set by Ray “Dice” Martin in 1974).  In the opening minute of the second-half, he established a new mark.


“I had seven steals in three or four games last year,” said Martin Ingelsby, last year’s graduated point guard.  He then paused for dramatic effect.  “That’s total.”


On an Irish team laden with three- and four-year players, the fresh-faced Thomas was clearly the best player on the floor and served notice that this is going to be a different Notre Dame team.  Last year the Irish were too slow-footed to extend defensive pressure beyond the three-point arc.  On this night, the visiting Wildcats had trouble getting the ball over center court.


“The question was supposed to be his defense,” said Ingelsby, who is helping out the venerable Jack Lorri and Jack Nolan on the radio broadcasts. “But Chris can take over a game defensively.  That’s what he did in this game.”


And the Joyce Center – almost completely full for the 9 p.m. start after the football Pep Rally – loved it.  Thomas brought the crowd to their feet on several occasions, with his steals, soft rainbow jumpers, and even by taking a charge. 


Who cares if this was New Hampshire, a hockey and skiing school from a second-tier conference (America East).  This was still a Division 1 basketball game in a building full of folks saying pre-game “OK, kid, show me what you have.”


What do you think the tailgate talk will be tomorrow morning? 


Alas, all the news from the Joyce Center is not good on this evening.  Senior and starting center Harold Swanagan played only nine minutes before exiting with “slippage” in his right knee cap.   The loss of Swanagan would be very difficult for the vertically-challenged Irish, especially with 6-11 sophomore Tom Timmermans also on the sidelines.


Senior David Graves (10-for-16 shooting) led the Irish in scoring with 26 points.  Brey said the freshman Thomas is making his veteran teammate a better player, and vice versa.


I think it has really helped (Thomas’) adjustment to college basketball,” said Brey. “We have three seniors, and (junior) Matt Carroll, who have played a lot of basketball and won a lot of games. And they know, to win again, they need Chris.  So they’ve nurtured him.”


In the “year of the point guard” in college basketball, Thomas (and the Irish, for that matter) have been ignored in pre-season.  That might not be the case with a couple of more performances like this.


“I thought we were very ready to play,” said Brey. “We were excited to play, we had a great crowd and the student section was awesome.” 

Brey is admirable at all times with the way he is able to maintain perspective.  (Trust us, there’s never a need to seek out his quotes in Hyperbole Monthly.)  But that may be why he’s the perfect coach for Thomas.   He won’t exaggerate the magnitude of this performance, nor will he go ballistic if Thomas throws the ball away 10 times at the Carrier Dome in January. 

“One thing about him is you don’t want to overcoach him,” said Brey. “You just got to let him go at times, let him create.  And one thing he does have is great instincts defensively. I was not really surprised by his steals tonight.” 

New Hampshire treated the basketball like it was a tax bill and Notre Dame’s athletic new crew ended up with a mind-boggling school-record 26 steals.  This from a team that averaged less than seven heists per contest in 2000-01. 

There’s no need to spend much time on play-by-play.  It was 6-4 New Hampshire early before Notre Dame went on a 22-1 run to take a 26-7 lead just after the 12-minute media timeout.  By that point, Thomas already had eight points, four steals and three assists.  The lead extended to 48-26 at the half and New Hampshire never threatened. 

Junior Jere Macura, buried on the bench last year, earned a start with Ryan Humphrey serving a two-game, NCAA-imposed suspension.  He responded with a solid 14-point, six-rebound effort. 

“I was happy with Jere,” said Brey. “I know he was nervous, but he played through it and did well.” 

Carroll had an off-night shooting (four-for-12) but had eight rebounds to go along with his eight points.  And Brey had high praise for the other freshman on the Irish squad, Jordan Cornette

“Let me tell you what,” said Brey, “Jordan looked and played like a college junior out there tonight. He took advantage of his opportunity.”  Cornette had eight points, six rebounds and three steals in 28 productive minutes.  

All in all, a spectacular night at the aged Joyce Center. 

“I think we may have to do this again,” said Brey about playing a game after the football Pep Rally.


THE NOTEBOOK: Brey classified Swanagan as “highly unlikely” to play against Cornell on Monday night.   He’s holding his breath that Swanagan will be ready when the Irish play three games in three nights in Hawaii, beginning next Friday……Don’t gloat too long about Hampton defeating Matt Doherty and North Carolina in Chapel Hill tonight.  The Virginia school is also in same Hawaii Pacific Tournament next week and could face the Irish……Torrian Jones saw extended action (23 minutes) and scored six points…..Chris Markwood, a former Mr. Maine, saw his first Irish playing time after being unofficially red-shirted his freshman year.  He had two points in 12 minutes.  Another Mr. Maine, Austin Ganley, led New Hampshire in scoring with 23 points……Brey and his staff set “40-percent shooting” as a defensive team goal each game.  The visiting Wildcats made just 32-percent of their shots, playing a chuck and duck style that would drive a fundamentalist crazy. Brey was more euphemistic. “It was an interesting test for us because we won’t see that style again this year.”……The 42-point margin nearly matched Notre Dame’s 46-point, 104-58 opening night rout of Sacred Heart last year……Pre-game, Brey let his guard drop a bit and said he felt his team was “not shown the proper respect after the type of year we had last year.”  The Irish received a small handful of pre-season Top 25 votes and are rarely mentioned this week as a tournament contender by the metropolitan newspapers.  One gets the sense that is going to become a rallying cry.


(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes)

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