Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes
March 14, 2002
You Haven't Seen
This Team in Years
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
(IE) Mike Brey is not prone to hyperbole. So when he said Thursday night that his team is beautiful to watch some eyes arched, but nobody disagreed.
The coach is right. This is the best Notre Dame mens basketball squad in at least 15 years and definitely a team. No-one cares about their shot, nobody cares about who makes the special pass, said senior David Graves. We just care about winning.
Notre Dame, 22-10, routed 18-12 Charlotte, 82-63, in a first-round, South Regional game of the NCAA Tournament at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, South Carolina. It sets up an absolute dream match-up on Saturday versus No. 1 seed Duke. Pupil vs. Coach. And if you think its a mismatch, you either have the lyrics to Devil With A Blue Dress On memorized, or you havent been watching this Notre Dame closely at all this season.
The Irish broke open a tie game with a 15-5 run over the first five minutes of the second-half and methodically broke Charlottes spirit. They have so many weapons, said Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz. They can hurt you anywhere on the court, and they look for each other.
Notre Dame outscored Charlotte, 47-28, in the second-half in putting together its most lopsided NCAA victory since a Final Four-berth clinching 84-64 triumph over DePaul on March 19, 1978. The Irish have also won NCAA Tournament games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1977 and 1978. Pretty impressive stuff, Mr. Brey.
Its something I would like to become a habit, Brey smiled. No question, this year we are more businesslike. Last year here we were a little wide-eyed. Now we know what we are doing.
It showed. Ryan Humphrey an All-American if anyone was really watching this year continued his seemingly endless run of double-doubles with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Matt Carroll had 20 points on four-of-five three pointers. Graves snapped out of his Big East Tournament slump to register 19 points and six assists.
Senior Harold Swanagan had eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. And, in his NCAA Tournament debut, freshman Chris Thomas quarterbacked the club with aplomb, eight points, six assists and only two turnovers. The Irish had 17 assists for their 28 field goals.
They had big, athletic big men, said Humphrey. (The key was) controlling tempo, making them play our game. And we play our game with joy.
Humphreys smile on this night had enough wattage to brighten up all of the Deep South. His outstanding night featured 10 made free throws in 10 attempts. He had never had a perfect night with more than two charity tosses his entire collegiate career.
I really dont care about stats, Humphrey said politely. All I care about is when I leave Notre Dame that people here realize that I love the game and I loved playing for Notre Dame.
Charlotte had nothing on this night, despite playing approximately 100 miles from its campus and having large pockets of fans in the building. Jobey Thomas, the best three-point shooter in Conference USA, was held to just one made three in eight attempts. Cam Stephens allegedly a Humphrey playalike only managed eight points and eight rebounds. The 49ers were successful on merely 21-of-61 field goal attempts and were outrebounded 38-32.
They reminded me of Villanova, said Brey. Jay Wright should be contacting his attorney about a possible slander suit.
Neither team led by more than five in the opening 20 minutes and they left the green-trimmed Bi-Lo Center playing surface tied at 35. Notre Dame hit four of its first six three-point attempts in taking a 14-11 lead, but the Irish were just dreadful from more conservative distances. Breys bunch missed 16 of 21 shots in one NIT-esque stretch and found itself down 28-23.
But just when everyone was wondering whether Graves invisible in the Big East Tournament had scored his last Notre Dame basket, the senior hit a smooth three to cap an 8-0 Irish run and give his team a 31-28 advantage. Jordan Cornette hit an open baseline jumper and Humphrey scored on a nice inside feed from Carroll, but Charlotte hung tough and scored the last four points of the half to create the intermission deadlock.
Notre Dame scored on its first three possessions of the second-half six points in 125 seconds and took control of the game. Brey had urged Graves at halftime to be more assertive and literally bear hugged his senior after he had a hustle basket in this run. His team fed off this energy.
A flurry that included a patient Graves baseline jumper and sweet threes by Carroll and Graves buried Charlotte. The Irish led by as many as 24 points.
This is the best team Ive ever been on, said Swanagan. No doubt about it.
THE NOTEBOOK: Before the game, Brey said I doubt there is any team in the country that has its top six players have more assists than turnovers, like we do. Well, IrishEyes didnt have time to check all 326 Division 1 teams, but we did check out the four top seeds in the tournament. Duke only has four of its top six; Three of the top six Kansas players has more turnovers than assists; Cincinnati? Three of the first six Bearcats turn it over more than they dish it off successfully; Maryland (the IrishEyes pick to win it all, incidentally) comes closest. Five Terps (only Lonnie Baxter doesnt make it) have more assists than TOs Congratulations to Mike Enright, a MVP (Most Valuable Publicist) to any reporter lucky enough to have dealt with him. Enright, the former Notre Dame basketball sports information director and most lately the head Eagle in Boston Colleges sports info office, has accepted the top athletic communications job at the University Connecticut. Hell now oversee two of the most glamorous basketball programs in the country in addition to being on the ground floor as the Huskies build a Division 1-A football program. Enright was born and raised in the Nutmeg State and graduated from UConn, but to IrishEyes hell always be a Domer Just in case you rarely get to the Southeastern part of the U.S., Bi-Lo is a supermarket chain. Like Miss Daisy, however, we prefer the Piggly Wiggly The Bi-Lo Center seats a bit more than 14,000 and unlike Kansas Citys Kemper Arena last year for the first- and second-round was legitimately packed. Duke had much to do with that, but at least at this site, the NCAAs regionalized approach to pairings worked The best thing that happened to me this year, said Carroll. Was missing that game against Miami. A game off sometimes is the best thing. Hate to bring this up, but Notre Dame has lost 10 straight to Duke (dating back to 1988) and is 2-18 all-time against the Blue Devils. That .100 winning percentage is far away the worst the Irish have against any other opponent (minimum of 10 games) and makes Notre Dames 19-45 record against Indiana look acceptable Notre Dame assistant coach Anthony Solomon knows a little about the ACC, having started and coached at Virginia. When we are moving the ball, getting everyone involved, he told IrishEyes, were a top ACC-caliber team.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at email@example.com)