Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
January 21, 2002
Hoyas Teach Irish
Big East Toughness
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – Notre Dame may still earn an invite to the NCAA Tournament. But the Irish will be the first to admit they don't even remotely resemble a battle-hardened team right now.
"We just have to make sure all five guys on the court are together and on the same page," said junior guard Matt Carroll quietly following Notre Dame's 83-73 loss to Georgetown Monday night. "We have to come out tougher."
Georgetown was the school that introduced toughness to the Big East more than 20 years ago. So it was painfully appropriate to see the Hoyas in their retro, Patrick Ewing-esque, sea-blue uniforms, pounding the Irish from pillar to post, devouring the hosts 54-41 on the boards.
"It was a total physical mismatch," admitted Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, as low after a game as IrishEyes can ever recall.
Notre Dame never led, was never tied, and didn't climb closer than seven points the final 30 minutes of the game. Under Brey, the Irish have had a chance to win every single Big East Conference game they have played the past two years. Not this one.
As a result, the Irish now look a little suspect. They are tied for fifth in the West Division of the Big East with Rutgers. They have lost three straight at home for the first time since 1994. The 83 points allowed were the most a Brey team has surrendered in a Big East game.
More tellingly, the senior leadership that Brey has been promoting all year was missing on this night.
David Graves played just 23 minutes, the fewest minutes he's had in a Big East game since January 22, 1999. He was one-for-nine from the field, but was benched by Brey for his lack of effort on the offensive boards.
"When Gerald Riley got two offensive rebounds over his back early, I don't think he was really ready to compete at the level we needed him to compete," said Brey. "We gave him a chance to get going again, (and he) really didn't go. He's got to be fighting for us to be good. He's a senior, he's a man, he's been around. He knows the deal."
With Graves MIA and fellow senior captain Harold Swanagan not dressed due to his nagging ankle injury, Notre Dame was forced to go into battle for long stretches with two freshmen (Chris Thomas and Jordan Cornette), a sophomore (Torrian Jones), Carroll and Ryan Humphrey. That quintet was not going to get it done against a Georgetown team Brey felt "Was the best I have seen in the conference this year."
Georgetown entered with a deceptive record of 11-6. Five of the losses were to ranked teams. One of the victories was a 27-point blowout at Boston College. But expect to see the Hoyas playing in March, mainly because of sophomore Mike Sweetney.
Take your pick on this 6-8, 260-pounder: If he's not the Most Improved Player in the Big East, then he's the MVP. He scored 21 points and had 16 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Georgetown had ample support from gifted but erratic point guard Kevin Braswell (14 points, three assists) and freshman guard Tony Bethel (12 points, six assists). Thomas Harvey came off the bench to hit two threes, Wesley Wilson (11 points, six rebounds) and sophomore Courtland Freeman (11 points, seven rebounds) at times looked like the most athletic player on the floor. But, most of all, the Hoyas were physical and tough. This is the Georgetown team that helped build the Big East.
"It's an honor if they consider us a rival," said Brey. "They are one of the premier programs in the Big East, if not the country."
Brey wasn't so charitable earlier when he drew his first technical foul as Notre Dame's head coach. The Irish still had a pulse, down 77-70 with one minute left, when Brey felt Sweetney pushed off on Carroll grabbing an offensive rebound. Brey stormed off the bench, almost getting to halfcourt before being teed-up.
"I thought Matt got pushed on the rebound," said Brey. "As physical as the game was, you probably make the call. I thought it would have been a statement by a good official."
But Big East and Final Four veteran referee John Clougherty did not make the call. Perhaps Brey's explosion will light a fire under his team.
"This was a good barometer," said Brey. "I think we can learn a lot from their intensity. Some of the other guys got to dig in."
Notre Dame was down 16-8 by the 13:34 mark of the first half and the tone had already been set. Georgetown already had eight offensive rebounds. Brey tried. He brought Tom Timmermans and Jere Macura off the bench, but things didn't improve. By the 12-minute mark, Sweetney had a double-double and the lead was 33-20.
It never really became close. Georgetown led by as many as 18 in the second-half before the Irish made a desperate late run, fueled by a pair of Carroll (17 points) three-pointers. But it wasn't nearly enough.
"I don't think we were prepared for (Georgetown's physicality)," said Cornette. "From the start we weren't in it."
But Cornette was a bright light. What he lacked on the boards (three rebounds in 31 minutes) he made up for in offense. He sank five-of-eight shots and showed promise with a perimeter jumper.
"I'm really proud of Jordan Cornette," said Brey. "He's coming."
And Thomas improved at the point. He was 0-for-4 from three-point range and only five-for-13 overall, but he directed an Irish offense that only had six turnovers, a statistic that astounded Georgetown coach Craig Esherick.
"Against the type of pressure defense we play, are you kidding me?" said Esherick. "Mike has a great player there."
Humphrey did his part also, scoring 19 points while securing 11 rebounds. He worked his tail off. But he also missed 14 shots as he was constantly hounded by Georgetown's foul-eating forwards.
"There's no panic, we can't get too flustered with ourselves," said Humphrey. "We made a game of it. We have to start out better, because there is no better team than us down the stretch."
THE NOTEBOOK: The Irish shooting woes continued. Notre Dame was just 28-for-75, and has shot below 40-percent in all five Big East games this season. "I told the team in the locker-room just now, ‘Shooting a jump shoot and looking at your form, it's not going to happen.' Not in this league," said Brey. "There are no easy looks."……Big East road teams are now 20-19 in conference games, an amazing statistic in what has been a home dominated conference since the onset……The 1993-94 team that lost three straight home games finished 12-17. The losses were to Manhattan, Loyola (Ill.) and Providence. Somehow, in between those losses, the Irish managed to lose at No. 2 Duke by just a bucket. Brey was on the Blue Devil bench that night……Athletic Director Kevin White was in Brey's post-game press conference and spoke briefly with Brey in the basketball offices following……Brey is uncertain as to Swanagan's status for Saturday's noon contest with Seton Hall. "If he's not feeling well Saturday, we'll hold him out," said Brey. "We have a lot of basketball left, and we need Number 42 in there. He wouldn't have made the difference tonight, but he would have helped."
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)