Bench Rescues Irish

Are there three more unlikely heroes than Jordan Cornette, Torrian Jones and Jere Macura? It was that trio -- along with wunderkind Chris Thomas --- that led Notre Dame back from a six-point deficit in the final 90 seconds Wednesday night in Morgantown. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports from the West Virginia Coliseum on a crucial Big East victory.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

January 9, 2002

All Looks Lost,
Bench Responds on Road

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

MORGANTOWN, W.V. (IE) – Notre Dame rallied from a six-point deficit with less than 90 seconds to play, on the road no less, with Jere Macura, Torrian Jones and Jordan Cornette making key plays.

Two dollars and that trifecta would clear you at least five figures at any respectable race track in the country.

"It was a great college basketball game," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey following his team's 67-64 victory over West Virginia. "A lot of different kids made plays for us, and that's something we can build on."

Brey's first point is debatable. In fact, for long stretches this was an awful college basketball game with both teams shooting poorly and making questionable decisions. But the latter cannot be disputed. And that is what makes the decision so much sweeter for the Irish.

Notre Dame, now 11-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big East, trailed 62-56 with 1:31 when West Virginia's Tyrone Sally missed two free throws. The Mountaineers (7-6, 0-2, losers of four straight) compounded that unfortunate occurrence when freshman Jonathan Hargett fouled Chris Thomas on a three-point attempt. Thomas made all three.

After Hargett swished two free throws of his own to make it 64-59 with 1:02 left, Macura got in the act, scoring inside on a muscle move while being fouled by John Oliver.

"When he hit me, I thought, ‘Good, two free throws,''' smiled Macura, who was positively giddy after the game. "Then I saw the ball bounce in and everybody was jumping all over me."

Macura made the charity toss to cut the deficit to two. It was his signature play on a night where he was on the floor for 19 minutes and had, truthfully, ugly numbers: two-for-six on free throws and five turnovers. But oh how pretty that three-pointer was.

"The other day Jere turned 21," said Brey. "I told him if it takes being pissed off at me to play hard, be pissed off at me. We'll make up in the spring."

"Yeah, he said that," Macura said to IrishEyes later. "And it helped me. Not just being pissed off at the coach, but the whole situation of not playing and not helping. It made me play harder, play tougher."

After Macura's three-pointer, the freshman Cornette (only two minutes, but memorable ones) picked off an errant pass in the backcourt. Thomas misfired a three-pointer but Jones was on the weak side for an offensive rebound lay-up. Jones was also fouled, missed the free throw, but the rebound was back-tapped from Cornette to Jones. Notre Dame was inexplicably tied 64-64 and had possession with 40 seconds left.

"You just have to stay sharp on the bench," said Jones, who only played six minutes and was on the floor at the end in an offensive-defensive strategy employed by Brey. "Coach tells us to be into the game and wait for our opportunity."

This was Thomas time. "He loves to seize the moment," said Brey. "He's a bright light player."

Mr. Indiana penetrated, not unlike the move Sunday in the final 20 seconds against Villanova. He was held by Hargett.

Thomas made both free throws cleanly with 18.6 seconds to play. West Virginia coach Gale Catlett did not call a time-out and had the ball in Hargett's hands. "It's exactly where I wanted it," said Catlett. "He's our present and future."

Hargett elevated for a three-pointer with six seconds left, but Ryan Humphrey (18 points, six rebounds, two blocks) contested and altered the shot. It fell short, Thomas grabbed the loose ball and was fouled. He made one of two with less than two seconds left and it was over.

"Amazing," said Brey. "The last shot was almost from the same spot as last year, with Ryan jumping out."

Not quite, smiled Humphrey, in reference to his defensive play that saved a 69-66 victory last Feb. 11 in the West Virginia Coliseum.

"On that play I twisted my ankle," he said. "I can walk out of here now."

And the Irish strode into the West Virginia night a relieved bunch. With three consecutive games against ranked teams ahead, the Irish did not want to ponder the thought of losing this game.

But was a real possibility in the first-half when Notre Dame fell behind 36-18. The Irish were almost comically bad, making only eight of their first 28 shots while allowing the hosts to make nine of their first 15. It was 36-21 at the half and Brey was as angry as his team has ever seen him.

"He ripped into us," Thomas told IrishEyes. "He said we were playing soft. We knew that, but we needed to hear that from him. The last couple of times in the locker-room when we've been down at halftime, it's been the players talking to each other. This time we needed someone with authority and come in say, pick it up or go home. He looked us all straight in the eye and said ‘If anybody says a word, you can stay in the locker-room and go home.' No-one said anything."

The Irish responded by hitting six straight three-point shots in the first 4:58 of the second-half, rallying to a 41-41 tie. Three of the treys came from Matt Carroll, who, through the first-half, had made just 20 of his last 64 shots dating back to Dec. 1.

"Look, you never have to worry about my confidence," Carroll said. "I know I can shoot the ball as well as anyone in the country. When they're not falling, I know they eventually will."

After the five-minute explosion, the game became ragged. West Virginia went 8:17 without a field goal but still was able to hold a 56-55 lead with under three minutes to play. All seemed lost for the Irish when Lionel Armstead (11 points) and Hargett (19, five rebounds, four assists) hit back-to-back threes to give the Mountaineers a six-point lead.

But that's when the unlikely troika of Macura, Cornette and Jones went to work…with a generous amount of support from Thomas.

"I would have been worried about our psyche if we did not get this one after coming from so far down," said Brey. "But getting the contributions from so many guys bodes well for us as we continue this tough stretch."

"We have seven, eight starters," said Humphrey. "I think that was the difference."


THE NOTEBOOK: Harold Swanagan is still not all the way back. He struggled in 21 minutes on the floor, scoring just two points while grabbing eight rebounds. He turned the ball over three times and fouled out. "He fouled out purposely to rest that ankle a bit," Brey smiled……There was less than half a house in the asbestos-free Coliseum, 6,552. And while the students were profane on occasion, this was not a difficult place to play on this night…..Sally was making his first start as a freshman for West Virginia and had 10 first-half points as Notre Dame's interior defense was weak. "We had no answer early," said Brey, "but then we switched up in the second-half, played some zone, and that slowed them down."……The Irish stayed in downtown Morgantown Wednesday night and will fly back to South Bend early Thursday. They'll jet right back to Western Pennsylvania Friday afternoon for Saturday's contest at 15-1 Pittsburgh.....Brey left no doubt for the West Virginia media who he prefers in the Rookie of the Year race, Hargett and Brey. "My guy will be up there at the end of the year," he said.

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