A World Wonder and Win For Irish

After two grueling weeks of final exams, Mike Brey rewarded his basketball team with a side-trip to Niagara Falls. The team paid the coach back with a solid road victory Saturday afternoon versus Canisius. The Irish head into a brief Christmas holiday with a sterling 9-1 record. Alan Tieuli has the details.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

December 22, 2001

Irish Avoid Going
Over The Falls

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

Whether it's a football or basketball game, Notre Dame road trips are rarely boring.

To celebrate the end of a grueling Fall semester, the Irish celebrated with a three-day journey to Western New York.  On Friday, they viewed Niagara Falls.

"It's pretty cold up here," said Ryan Humphrey, catching his first glimpse of one of the Wonders of the World.  "Can't we just drive by?"

Saturday afternoon, Mike Brey may have been ready to go over The Falls in a barrel, with his team trailing lowly Canisius 35-33 at the half.  But the Irish recovered nicely in the second-half, shooting free throws with dead-eye accuracy, and went on to post an 84-73 victory at HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo.

"I told our guys that this had to be the biggest game on Canisius' schedule," said Brey. "It was a quality test."

Notre Dame converted 35 of 44 free throw attempts and its last 13 points were from the line (on 14 attempts).  Every charity toss was needed since Canisius led briefly in the second-half and was still tied at 54 with 11 minutes remaining.

The Irish moved to 9-1 on the season, their best start since 1985-86.  Notre Dame has not been 10-1 since 1978-79 and one year ago didn't attain its 10th victory until the 15th game, on January 16.   Number 10 this year could come Thursday, at the Sugar Bowl Classic against ranked Southeastern Conference foe Alabama.

Canisius played its most spirited game of the season but dropped to 1-5.  The Golden Griffs had lost to Rider by 17 in its previous contest, scoring just nine points in the first-half.   They were a more than worthy opponent on this cold afternoon.

From a 54-54 tie, Notre Dame took control with a 9-0 run that featured a pair of baskets from Harold Swanagan and a three-pointer from Matt Carroll.   The Irish took care of the ball from then on, never letting its advantage shrinking below six, while withstanding a legitimate Canisius offensive effort.

This is a big reason why schools from top conferences don't like to play mid-majors on the road.  The Golden Griffs easily could have won this game.  Brey said so earlier in the week; few believed him.  They do now.

"When you go on the road, you can't learn enough," said Carroll, referring both to the local sights and the competition. "Coach Brey does a great job of doing that with us, whether it's Pearl Harbor (for the Hawaii Pacific Tournament) or Niagara Falls.

"You look at the teams we have played to date," said Carroll. "It really is the biggest game of the year for most of them, so that's a significant challenge for us.  It's nice to go into Christmas with a nice little run."

Notre Dame had hoped to go deep into its bench on this day, but will settle for the victory.   The five starters scored all 84 of the team points, David Graves leading the way with 20, followed by Carroll (18), Chris Thomas (17), Swanagan (15) and Humphrey (14). 

Thomas had to deal with foul trouble for the first time in his young collegiate career.  He picked up his third foul 13 minutes into the first-half, Notre Dame leading 22-21.  Chris Markwood replaced him at the point and the Irish weathered the storm reasonably well, trailing only by two at intermission.  Canisius clearly outplayed ND in the first 20 minutes.

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