Legends Never Rest

And you thought you had seen the best from Chris Thomas? The kid not only plays every second of the longest Big East game in history, but he also writes the lead for this story. Well, sort of. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli brings you into the jubiliant Notre Dame locker-room following the incredible 116-111 four-overtime victory over Georgetown. You may want to cover your eyes.

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

February 9, 2002

 The Naked Truth:
A Game For the Ages

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. (IE) – After you’ve played 60 minutes – elevating yourself in your coach’s eye from Rookie of the Year to perhaps Player of the Year – what else is there to do except get naked and whoop and holler with the guys?

In case you weren’t convinced by now – and apparently some high-profile media folks were not – Chris Thomas is a special player. He never took a seat in Notre Dame’s incredible 116-111, four-overtime victory over Georgetown Saturday afternoon. He turned the ball over exactly once in the second half and the overtimes. He had 12 assists and 22 points, including the game-winning jumper.

And, if that wasn’t enough, he wrote the lead of this story. Well, at least the quote that supports it.

This is Thomas describing the post-game Notre Dame locker-room at the MCI Center:

"Everybody was jumping around, we had the music on full blow. Everybody was taking off their clothes. It’s just what guys do when they’re happy."

Count on a good deal of disrobing throughout Notre Dame Nation in the coming years. Chris Thomas has three years of eligibility remaining.

"This is past freshman of the year now," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, taking a subtle dig at a pair of national commentators who promoted Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor this week as the Big East’s top rookie. "We are looking at one of the great guards."

In the game’s 59th minute, trailing 108-107 with Georgetown in possession of the ball, Notre Dame needed a stop and a hero. Thomas gladly accepted the role. First he harassed the Hoyas’ Tony Bethel into a bad shot. Then, he took the outlet pass off the miss, drove the length of the floor, and hit a 12-foot leaner.

The Irish never trailed again. And Notre Dame had a victory that, short-term, is critical for its Big East standing. Long-term, it’s one the 14,698 in attendance will always remember and will be referenced many times over by sports historians.

"It’s obvious it will be an ESPN Instant Classic," said David Graves.

First things, first. Someone draw Thomas a warm bath.

"I can’t feel my legs and my feet are blue," he said.

Such a price for heroism. With his 60 minutes of play, Thomas is now averaging 41.1 minutes per contest in Big East play.  He has gone the duration in seven of the 10 Irish league contests.

Notre Dame has won five straight games and is 17-6 overall, 7-3 in the West Division of the Big East Conference. It is tied for second with Syracuse, and one-half game behind division leader Pittsburgh (8-3). The Irish have the exact same record as they did at this stage last season.

"It is beginning to look a real lot like last year and feel a lot like last year," said Brey with emphasis. "This is a familiar dance."

And while Brey is building a program that can contend for championships consistently, he also now has a game that ranks at the top of his all-time list.

"I’ve not been involved in a better game," Brey said. "That counts my DeMatha days, Duke and the (Christian) Laettner shot (to beat Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight). Nothing is better than this one."

The game, obviously, featured enough new records to fill a wing of the imposing National Archives a few blocks away. The 227 combined points were the most ever scored in a Big East game. It was the first four overtime contest in Big East history. It was Notre Dame’s first four overtime game. Thomas, obviously, obliterated the school record for minutes played in a game.

But the game was special for more than its length. The quality of play was sensational.

"This seems like yesterday but we played such a good first half," said Brey, referencing his team’s 48-43 advantage after 20 minutes of 58-percent shooting. "That gave us the momentum to hang in there the entire game."

Notre Dame needed to believe. It played its worst game of the season versus Georgetown on January 19 in South Bend, falling 83-73 in a game that felt more like 83-53. The Hoyas held a 54-41 rebounding edge in that game.

This time around. Notre Dame reversed the numbers on the glass, grabbing 64 boards (tying a Big East single game record) to 54 for the hosts. How do you figure?

"We wanted to put a body on somebody and go get some boards," said center Harold Swanagan, who didn’t play in the first meeting but had 11 points and 10 rebounds this time. "When everybody is boxing out and doing the things they are supposed to do, it’s hard to beat us."

Notre Dame received a career-high 30 points from junior Matt Carroll, who has never lost in three tries in D.C. He scored the last seven Irish points, a soft three-pointer with 1:13 remaining to make it 112-108, and then four clinching free throws.

"I just decided I like this building very much," said Carroll.

One person who couldn’t wait to get out of the building was Georgetown coach Craig Esherick, whose team most assuredly was not getting naked and jubilant in its locker-room. "I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy," he said.

Esherick’s team surely died a slow death. Senior guard Kevin Braswell had a chance to win the game for the Hoyas with last possession shots three times – at the end of regulation and the first and second overtimes. He mis-fired each time. The Hoyas had another shot at the end of the third overtime, but Gerald Riley’s driving effort was swatted away by Ryan Humphrey.

"That’s the most vivid memory I’ll walk away from this game with," said Carroll. "Georgetown had all those chances to beat us, but our defense stood strong."

Humphrey finished with 23 points (on eight-for-23 shooting) and 14 rebounds. He played 54 minutes, 31 of them with four fouls. He picked up his fourth with 13:41 to play in the second-half. Stunningly, he was still on the floor at the end while six other players (four from Georgetown and two from ND) were disqualified.

"I just decided I was more important to the team than one blocked shot," said Humphrey. "I had to play better position defense and be smarter."

So many heroes. Graves had 15 points, seven boards and seven assists in 49 minutes.   Jordan Cornette scored the first three points of the fourth overtime. Torrian Jones had seven points and a game-clinching steal at 114-111 with 17 seconds left. Tom Timmermans banged effectively inside for 23 minutes, scoring five points and securing five rebounds. Then again, everyone might have gone home an hour earlier if he could have made a point-blank lay-up at 84-all with five seconds to go in regulation, but who’s going to quibble on a day like this?

For Hoya supporters, it truly was a shame that the wondrous Michael Sweetney (career-high 35 points and 20 rebounds) and Wesley Wilson (26 points) had to lose. Sweetney is, hands down, the Big East’s best inside man this season and a strong candidate for Player of the Year.  He fouled out with his team leading 108-107 with 2:20 to play.  Notre Dame held a 9-3 edge the rest of the way.  Enough said.

Braswell had 12 points and 10 assists in 53 minutes, but made just five-of-19 shots and didn’t have a single steal. That’s how well Thomas protected the basketball. The legend grows.

"I was impressed by him in South Bend," said Esherick. "And now I’m impressed even more."

Did Thomas ever consider coming out?

"Coach asked me once at the four or five minute mark of the first-half," Thomas said. "I told him I was OK, and he never asked me again."

"There were so many plays in this game, I’m confused," Brey said. "Usually I’m good at remembering things that happened in the game."

There’s no need for Brey to worry. He probably won’t go a week the rest of his coaching life without being reminded of this contest. It was that special.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)

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