Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™
February 23, 2002
No Doubts Remain
About Irish, Thomas
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
(IE) – Two questions.
How can you keep Notre Dame out of the NCAA Tournament?
How can you vote for someone other than Chris Thomas for Big East Rookie of the Year?
Answers. You can't.
Notre Dame solidified its hopes to qualify for the NCAA Tournament Saturday night with a road victory of the highest quality – 90-77 over No. 13 ranked Miami. The win was somewhat improbable in that it was only the Hurricanes' second home loss of the season and also came without an appearance from shooting guard Matt Carroll (ankle).
Thomas was remarkable…again. The freshman – somehow a distant third for Rookie of the Year in an online poll at Big East.com -- had his most important double-double of the year, 32 points (six-of-12 3's) and 12 assists and clearly was the most compelling player on the floor.
"Forget top freshman," said coach Mike Brey. "He is one of the top guards in the country."
Miami entered fifth in the Big East defensively, allowing only 69 points a game. But Thomas just shredded the Hurricanes' 1-3-1 zone.
"He has us playing fearlessly," said Brey. "And when we're attacking, we're pretty good."
"Pretty good" to Brey is WOW-WEE to you. The coach maintains an even-keel public persona – a very desirable trait at a school that has more than its share of bandwagon jumpers. Those who were questioning this team's ability – and its coaching – six days ago will be up all night on the message boards saluting this one.
Mr. Indiana was not a one-man show, however. Hardly. David Graves was his usual steady self with 18 points (four three-pointers) and Ryan Humphrey was above the rim for 15 points and 10 rebounds, his 16th double-double of the year.
The Best Supporting Actor, however, was Torrian Jones. Stepping into the starting line-up for Carroll, the sophomore had a career-high 17 points and even survived an R-rated tongue lashing from Brey for throwing an ill-timed behind-the-back pass while protecting the lead in the final minutes.
"Torrian was fabulous," said Brey, specifically referencing his athletic, slashing moves to the hoop that resulted in six-of-nine field goals.
Harold Swanagan banged inside for eight points and six rebounds as the Irish turned in a consummate team effort.
Miami led just once in the second-half, 42-41, on an Elton Tyler jump hook. But Graves hit a three on the next Irish possession, and Jones hit back-to-back hoops, the first on a surreal pass from Thomas. The Hurricanes never got closer than five the final 14 minutes of the game. It was thoroughly effective and enjoyable Irish performance and it couldn't have come in a better spot.
Notre Dame is now 19-8 overall, 9-5 in the Big East Conference and still mathematically alive in the chase for first-place in the West Division. The Irish are a conference best 5-2 on the road – something the selection committee weighs quite heavily.
If 19-8 sounds familiar to you, it should. That was exactly Notre Dame's record at the conclusion of the regular season last year. That was good enough for an at-large bid, and it should be again this year. The Irish have two tilts left – Wednesday at St. John's, Saturday at home versus Providence. A win in either should erase any doubt whatsoever.
Miami falls to 21-6 overall, 8-6 in the B