Irish Do What They Need

It wasn't pretty, but the Irish bounced back in the second half and beat Seton Hall on Saturday, taking a must-win in conference play. Ryan Humphrey led the way again, but there were good games by Jordan Cornette, Tom Timmermans and Chris Thomas, as well. Timmermans' performance was a nice surprise and presages two wide bodies in the lineuup when Harold Swanagan returns.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes®.

January 26, 2002


By Joe Tybor
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) -- It wasn't art, but Mike Brey's Irish bounced back from an ugly first half and took a game it had to, beating Seton Hall 60-51 Saturday.

The Big East win broke a three-game losing streak at home and, just as importantly, featured some good play from Tom Timmermans and Jordan Cornette to possibly provide an answer to the continued missing play of big body Harold Swanagan, who was in street clothes again.

Even if Swanagan returns for Wednesday's rematch against Pitt as  Brey hopes, Timmermans' wide berth should give Ryan Humphrey more room to roam; and Cornette provides a nice soft touch from the outside and a helping hand on perimeter defense.

 It was a consistently solid defense which won this one for the Irish (13-6, 3-3), who would have fallen below .500 in the West Division of the Big East had they let this one get away. The Pirates' 51 points was the lowest point total the Irish allowed a Big East opponent since Notre Dame entered the conference in '95-'96.

 "It was the first game I can remember that when we didn't have a successful offensive possession, it didn't affect us on the other end of the floor," said a relieved Mike Brey, whose Irish shot only 32 percent in the first half and 41 percent for the game.  "We weren't thinking about our shot. We got back and we were mentally tougher about digging in and guarding and rebounding.

"I was worried about us psychologically if we didn't get this one done today, but our locker room was excited, happy and celebrating, and we need that."

In addition to a consistently alert defense, it didn't hurt that Seton Hall, the team with the worst shooting percentage in the conference, stunk it up more than usual from the outside. The Pirates ordinarily shoot about 40 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. They shot only 29 percent against the Irish and 16.7 percent from behind the three-point line, hitting only 4 of 24 from long range, throwing up air balls and bank shots that missed the rim.

 "We couldn't make a basket, that's all it was," said sophomore playmaker Andre Barrett, who was held to only five points, well below his 17.9 per game average. "We played good defense but just couldn't make a basket."

The Irish who trailed at halftime 23-22—the 10th game in the last 11 in which they've been behind at intermission—started smartly in the second half. They held Seton Hall without a field goal for nearly six minutes, during which they built a 35-32 lead to 45-35 with just under six minutes remaining.

David Graves, coming off the bench after lackadaisical play and seemingly out of Brey's doghouse, hit two big three-pointers to keep the Pirates at bay when they were still within creeping distance. Those were the only field goals Graves hit, but he made five of seven from the free-throw line and this time won approval from his boss.

"Getting his timing early in the first half was a little struggle," Brey said, "but I thought he rebounded well. I thought he dug in defensively. He was very aware and made big shots for us. He played like the veteran senior he is."

 Without Swanagan, Mr. Indispensable for the Irish again was Ryan Humphrey, who fended off the big bodies of Seton Hall well enough for his fourth straight double/double and tenth of the season. Humphrey, who looked like an exhausted prize fighter at the end, finished with 16 points, leading all scorers, and 12 rebounds including three on the offensive boards.

Humphrey got only one block, his 50th, but that was by design. Brey told him to forget about going for the block so that he was in better position for the rebound.

The strategy was intended to give the perimeter shooting Pirates only one chance each time at the basket and they ended up with only nine second-chance points.

Ryan found the adjustment "tough." He said he instinctively has been going for the block as long as he's been playing the game but "everyone has to make sacrifices to win and if he thinks that will help us win, I'll do it."

 The first half was plain ugly—on both sides.

 "It probably set the game back 20 years," joked Brey.

With about seven minutes left in the half, Seton Hall was shooting only 20 percent from the field and the Irish were little better at 31 percent. Even with the horrid field goal percentage by the Pirates, the Irish could forge only a 14-12 lead by then.

The Irish were miserable at the free throw line, missing three bonus opportunities and hitting only 6 of 15 in the first half. No one can ever fault Humphrey's effort but he was 3 for 9 from the free throw stripe in the first half as the Pirates played what Jack Nolan likes to call "Hack A Hump."

Humphrey finished 4 of 13 from the charity line, accounting for nine of the Irish 13 misses. The Irish failed to make a three-pointer in the first half, missing nine of them.

The freshman Cornette, starting for Swanagan, hit two quick buckets early and led Irish rebounders in the first half with six and finished with six points and 10 boards.

Timmermans, who has seen only 24 minutes in four previous games, gave 13 minutes of solid play with five points and four rebounds and provided a nice wide berth to help clog the up-the-middle playmaking ability of Barrett.

 "I just wanted to come out and do the things I knew that I could do," said Timmermans, who just started practicing without a knee brace this week after missing the first nine games. "As the game progressed, I felt more confident and started taking a few shots."

It was Timmermans who brought the crowd (announced as a sellout at 11,418—though a few empty seats were bare in the bleachers) back to life midway in the second half with a huge defensive rebound that led to Graves' second three-pointer which gave the Irish a 41-33 lead—a turnaround of five points and perhaps the turning point of the game.

 "Tom has a huge presence," said Brey. "The one thing he can do is he can score in the low post. He's got footwork, a defensive presence; he's a screener with that big body helping our perimeter guys get open and he's a rebounder. He's kind of a dirty-work guy but you put him on the line and he can make free throws.

"I like thinking about us with him and Swanagan and having two builds like that in the arsenal. We need to have that in this league right now."

Brey said he is hopeful that Swanagan will practice on Monday and be able to play Wednesday against Pitt whom the Irish beat on its home court 56-53 two weeks ago.

 "It will be a tough test for us," said Graves." They are going to have a lot to give us after beating them on their home court but if we play defense like we did today, I think we will be in good shape."

 Brey said even with Swanagan's potential return, the lineup is "game-to-game" and is clearly pleased with the play of Jones, Cornette and Timmermans. Even though the 6-9 freshman Cornette is too frail to bang bodies on the inside, he knows how to play perimeter defense, particularly sliding off screens.

"Jordan Cornette is fabulous in that because he's basically a dancer," said Brey. "He just got great feet."

The other freshman Chris Thomas contin Top Stories