Carroll In Line of Fire

In the next four days, in the hills of West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, we'll find out what the 2001-02 Notre Dame team is made of. As the Irish begin a three-game road trip Wednesday at the West Virginia Coliseum, one thing is clear: They need better perimeter play from Matt Carroll. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli is on the trip with the Irish and files this report.

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January 9, 2002

Better Marksmanship
The Aim as Trip Begins

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

MORGANTOWN, W.V. (IE) – There’s no real secret as to why Notre Dame lost its Big East opener Sunday to Villanova.

The Irish established a season-low in shooting percentage (38-percent) while allowing the visiting Wildcats to shoot a higher percentage (56) than any opponent this year. You can strip away all other elements of Dr. Naismith’s wonderful game, nothing is more important than marksmanship.

"We have to do a better job taking advantage of our opportunities on the perimeter," said head coach Mike Brey. "I’m happy with the looks we are getting with the shooters we have."

And that means, in large part, Matt Carroll. All eyes will be on him Wednesday night when the Irish begin a challenging, three-game road trip in Morgantown against West Division rival West Virginia.

Carroll was three-for-10 Sunday against Villanova, the latest sub-par effort that has seen him shoot 19-for-59 since the end of November. He has not made more than four field goals in a contest during that stretch. His perimeter defense, once again, has come into question. Gary Buchanan and Reggie Bryant combined to hit six-of-eight three pointers Sunday to help the Wildcats open a double-digit lead.

"We need to be quicker on the perimeter," said Brey. "Quickness in the Big East shouldn’t surprise us."

Does this mean more minutes, perhaps a start, for Torrian Jones in Carroll’s spot? The timing would be cruel.

Carroll very much wants to make amends for his visit to Morgantown last Feb. 11. At the conclusion of a pulsating 69-66 Irish win, Carroll and his teammates were verbally assaulted by hundreds of rowdy Mountaineer students and fans in the lower sections of the West Virginia Coliseum. As the players escaped into the tunnel leading to their locker-room, Carroll turned and flashed an obscene gesture. He was almost totally obscured in the tunnel, but the ESPN cameras exposed his misdeed.

Carroll, one of the classiest kids you’d ever have the honor to meet, was contrite later and vowed it would never happen again. But he’s also made it clear he was looking forward to performing again for the West Virginia fans.

(It won’t be a rabid house at the West Virginia Coliseum. The students are on break and there are plenty of tickets available at the 14,000 seat facility.)

The junior guard from Horsham, PA was seven-for-nine at Rutgers the game after West Virginia last year. He also nailed nine-of-11 shots versus Xavier in the NCAA Tournament last March after making just eight-of-30 in the previous three games. When Brey’s talks about his team’s need for resiliency, he usually doesn’t have to worry about Carroll. This is, however, the longest slump of Carroll’s career.

But expect Carroll in the starting line-up Wednesday. And the Irish need him, particularly with the style of play Brey prefers to employ.

"We’re going to one of the toughest places in the country to play," forward David Graves said. "We’ve put ourselves in a tough spot. We need everybody to play well." Graves had 22 points Sunday, but only made two-of-seven shots in the second-half.

The oddsmakers believe in 10-3 Notre Dame, establishing the Irish as a five-to-six point favorite against a 7-5 West Virginia team that has lost its last three games by a combined 66 points. The Mountaineers were crushed in their Big East opener at St. John’s, 72-53.

The intriguing match-up, of course, is at the point guard position with Chris Thomas squaring off with Jonathan Hargett, the pre-season Big East Rookie of the Year. Thomas has been sensational in the first 13 games of his collegiate career, averaging just over 17 points and seven assists a game. He struggled mightily on offense the first 30 minutes against Villanova Sunday, but nearly stole the game with his defense down the stretch. Hargett’s numbers have been a bit more modest, 14 points and five assists, and his decision-making hasn’t been as sharp. He has nine turnovers in a game twice.

"We just need to be focused, concentrate on our individual responsibilities and do everything we can to win as a team," said forward Ryan Humphrey.

Is West Virginia a must win? Well, 15-1 Pittsburgh, at Fitzgerald Field House, awaits on Saturday. Lose Wednesday and Saturday and the Irish, just one full week into their Conference season, will be a staggering three and one-half games out of first place in the West Division. And an even more difficult trip to Syracuse follows. The title defense might be over as it is starting.

"We need Harold Swanagan," said Brey of his ailing center. "We need his screens, we need his presence inside." The big Kentuckian played only 12 minutes Saturday but Brey said "He should feel better (Wednesday)."

History is not a friend of the Irish as they begin this three-game trip. Since joining the Big East in 1995-96, Notre Dame has gone on the road for three straight on three occasions. It has been a collective 2-7 on those trips.

IrishEyes is on the road with the team and will be filing daily reports.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at Top Stories