Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes
December 4, 2001
Thomas Not Ready Yet
To End Irish Misery at IU
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
(IE) Theres a reason for Chris Thomas to stick around more than two years at Notre Dame before beginning an inevitable NBA career.
To defeat Indiana in Bloomington.
The freshman phenom came ever so close tonight, contributing 24 points seven in the last three minutes but the Irish lost a heartbreaking 76-75 decision to Indiana before a sold-out crowd of 17,456 at Assembly Hall.
The Irish saw their seven-game win streak longest since 1979-80 halted as 5-2 Indiana was led by Jared Jeffries career-high 28 points.
This is a big learning experience for this team, said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, fully aware that this was Notre Dames first quality opponent in eight efforts.
Notre Dame never led, trailed by as many as 14 in the first-half, but was just a three-pointer away from tying the contest after Tom Coverdale hit two free throws to put Indiana up, 76-73, with 19.2 seconds remaining.
Ironically, the ball ended up in the hands of junior guard Matt Carroll, who was suffering through a scoreless effort. Carroll lost his defender off the dribble and delivered a smooth three-point shot. The Nike leather rattled in-and-out and was tapped in by Ryan Humphrey to make it 76-75 with 2.4 seconds left. But the Irish never regained possession.
For Carroll, it was the first time he was blanked in a contest since the opening game of his collegiate career, at Ohio State. However, the last time he played in a game of national significance the NCAA Tournament against Mississippi he also went without a field goal, 0-for-6.
Indiana, playing its first home game of the season, extended its winning streak over Notre Dame in Bloomington to 13 games. The Irish have won here only twice in the last 55 years.
We wanted to hold Notre Dame under 70 points to win, said Indiana coach Mike Davis. But we got enough offense from Jared to take care of this. Notre Dame is a quality team.
Notre Dame received a solid, athletic effort from Humphrey 23 points and five blocks. But the senior also missed a pair of point-blank lay-ups in the second-half, crunching the ball hard off the glass with little touch, another flashback to the Mississippi loss.
Undersized Harold Swanagan continued to add momentum to his Most Improved Player campaign with 17 points, nearly single-handedly keeping Notre Dame in the game late in the first-half.
We knew this was going to be new territory for the guys, said Brey. We were facing a hungry team, after a loss, happy to be home for their home opener. This was a great challenge.
And the Irish failed the test barely because it allowed Indiana to get out of the gate too fast. The Hoosiers hit five three-point shots in the first 14 minutes in building a double-digit advantage that Notre Dame just couldnt overcome.
In their four wins, theyve made 10 threes a game, said Brey. And theyve come from everybody. Thats something (we were) aware of. The three-point shot gets the crowd going and that influences the game. Sure enough, four different Hoosiers contributed to the first five three-pointers.
Brey dramatically shortened his bench. Even with an ineffective David Graves (eight points) saddled with foul trouble (he eventually fouled out with 6:26 to play), Notre Dame only went with seven players. Jordan Cornette and Chris Markwood, for the first time this season, were both DNP-Coachs Decision. Jere Macura also was practically invisible. After a pair of defensive lapses and a lazy turnover in the first-half, Macura might as well had been in Terre Haute in the second-half.
You want to play as many games as possible, but when the lights are on and the challenge is being extended, you go with your best, said Brey.
Torrian Jones played the final six minutes in place of Graves and did an admirable job, scoring three points. He did overhustle on one play, however, knocking a rebound away from Swanagan with the score 72-70 Indiana. The Hoosiers regained the loose ball and Coverdale ultimately converted two free throws to provide more breathing room.
I like the energy Torrian Jones brings to the floor, said Brey.
In the face of Indianas defensive intensity early, Thomas committed the cardinal sin for a point guard he didnt involve his teammates in the offense. While both Graves (two points) and Carroll (zero) languished from lack of touches in the first-half, the freshman forced his shot, both inside and out. He scored 13 points, but the Irish couldnt establish a rhythm offensively and didnt have a run of longer than five points. Thomas did not have an assist the first 20 minutes, a statistic every bit as eye-opening as his zero turnover efforts earlier this season.
Meanwhile, Indiana played very unselfishly and built a 21-13 lead by the 12-minute TV timeout with five different players hitting field goals. Then Coverdale a 30-point scorer in South Bend last year, an eighth man on this night entered the game at the 10-minute mark and almost immediately hit a transition three, pushing the deficit the 27-15.
At that point, Brey signaled for Notre Dames first 30-second timeout of the season. We expected Indiana to make a run, said Brey. A key would be how we respond to it. What type of poise will we show coming out of a timeout?
The Indiana lead swelled to 36-22 and Graves picked up a ticky-tack third foul. The Irish closed to within 40-30 at the half only because Swanagan outworked the leaner, longer Hoosiers down low the final two minutes, scoring the final six ND points before intermission.
It became anybodys game the last two minutes, a testimony to Irish grit and their overall athleticism. But it will take something really special for this team to win in Bloomington.
One gets that the feeling the Irish are this close to being that special. Make your reservations for December, 2003.
THE NOTEBOOK: How good was Notre Dame the last time it won in Bloomington? In 1973-74, the John Shumate-led Irish spent 13 consecutive weeks in the top five, including a seven-day stint as No. 1. The only other ND squad to be thought of more highly throughout the season was the 1978-79 unit that was ranked no lower than fifth all season, was ranked No. 1 between Jan. 16-Feb. 15 and ultimately lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the Final Eight of the NCAA Tournament .Notre Dame has an opportunity to get a smaller monkey off its back Saturday when it travels to Oxford to meet Miami (Ohio) at funky Millett Hall. Graves and Swanagan have lost three straight to this MAC team, a remnant from the Mike Wadsworth scheduling era. (The Irish compensated Miami with a four-year basketball agreement after backing out of a 1997 football date.) .Another piece of negative symmetry with the Mississippi loss in Kansas City. Graves fouled out of that one also ..Graves has fouled out of seven games in his career and the Irish have lost all of them Going back to his freshman year, Notre Dame is 14-2 when Carroll hits 50-percent or better of his shots. That is why one could sense trouble in the first-half when Thomas wasnt working harder to get Carroll some touches. True, Indiana was denying the passing lines, but the great point guards now ways to get everyone involved.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes)