The Can't Miss Kid

On National Letter of Intent day in college football, it was Notre Dame's most heralded basketball recruit that brought down the house. Freshman Chris Thomas was magnificent, scoring a career-high 32 points in an 89-72 victory over Rutgers. The Irish are in red hot pursuit of another Big East title. Alan Tieuli reports.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

February 6, 2002

Thomas Defines
"Can't Miss" Recruit

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

(IE) – Rutgers coach Gary Waters has revitalized New Jersey's interest in college basketball.  But he may have been asking too much of his team Wednesday night in South Bend.

"We wanted to get the ball up and down the floor," said Waters. "We wanted to control the tempo."

Be careful what you ask for.

Notre Dame gleefully obliged in the 94-foot game.  You could almost feel Chris Thomas' smile in the last row of the creaky Joyce Center bleachers.  You also got the impression he could hit a jumper from up there.

Running with confidence and stroking jumpers with precision, Thomas hit seven-of-nine three-point shots and finished with a career high 32 points in leading Notre Dame to an easy 89-72 victory over the Scarlet Knights in a critical Big East Conference game.

Thomas, stunningly, was directly involved in 21 of Notre Dame's 30 baskets, hitting 10 field goals and dishing out 11 assists.  It was the most enjoyable night of basketball this season at the Joyce Center. And it was historic evening for David Graves and Matt Carroll.

The Irish have now won four straight and stand an impressive 16-6 overall, 6-3 in the West Division.  Mike Brey's team is only one-half game behind division co-leaders Pittsburgh and Syracuse.  What's more, ND has the bright lights star in Thomas that the NCAA Selection Committee craves.

"I can't say I'm surprised," Brey said of Thomas' remarkable night. "He's a special one."

Rutgers had entered with a three-game winning streak, including triumphs over Connecticut and Syracuse.  The Scarlet Knights are still dangerous at 5-5 in the division, 14-8 overall, and will be looking for Valentine's Night revenge next Thursday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Graves, despite weakened with a back injury that kept him in the campus infirmary Tuesday, came off the bench with 18 points and passed Bob Whitmore to move into ninth place on the all-time Notre Dame scoring list.   He also had eight rebounds.

"David Graves was an absolute man tonight," said Brey. "We weren't sure he was going to play in lay-up line.  He's hurting and we got to get him healthy before Georgetown (Saturday)."

Not to be outdone by his perimeter partner and close friend, Carroll notched 14 points on six-for-10 shooting and became the 42nd Irish player to score 1,000 career points.

Ryan Humphrey didn't score much (eight points), but his role on this night was to rebound (14 caroms) and dish (five assists).  Notre Dame had 24 assists in its 30 field goals, a stat that tells you everything you need to know about the Irish's cohesiveness.

"When you have 24 assists in a college basketball game," said Brey, "that's something to be very proud of."

Notre Dame, thought to be in pre-season one of the weakest rebounding teams in the conference, held a commanding 46-32 lead off the glass on this night.

"We're running more and we're getting up and down the floor well," said Brey. "But you got to rebound it if you are going to run.  We are certainly going to have to rebound to win Saturday."

It was a competitive 58-48 game with 15 minutes to play before Thomas hit a trio of three-point baskets in five Notre Dame possessions.  That expanded the advantage to 69-53 and broke the visitors spirits.

By the time Thomas hit an acrobatic, old-fashioned three-pointer, it was 86-59 and the white dome was rocking.  It was easily the best performance any Irish point guard has played in a Big East Conference game.  It rivaled the best efforts of David Rivers, the player Thomas was most compared to when he enrolled.

After walk-on Dan White drilled a three-pointer for the final points of the game, Notre Dame finished 14-for-23 on three-point field goals. Top Stories