Notre Dame's preformance on Wednesday was one Irish coach Mike Brey hopes will be a building block for a successful Big East season.The intensity was obvious from the opening tip, with ND players getting in the Fordham jerseys on defense. Perhaps wanting to prove their game against Columbia a fluke, the Irish held the Rams to 28 percent shooting. "We wanted to focus on the defensive end of the floor," Chris Quinn said after the game. "When you hold a team to 49 points, that's always pretty good. The thing we really talked about at halftime was even though we were up 12, in past games, the 12 went to 10 and 8, and we let those teams hang around. We wanted to push that 12-point lead to 15 and 18, and concentrate on attacking."
The flow on offense was similarly strong. A season-high 25 assists on 29 made baskets resulted from crisp ball movement and players looking to make the extra pass. "Trying to hit the open man is something we work on in practice every day," said Rick Cornett. "If they make the hard cuts, you've got to reward them for it."
Every time there was a breakdown, a teammate was there for the pickup. Foul trouble limited Torin Francis to 20 minutes, but the slack was more than picked up by Cornett (nine points, eight rebounds) and Luke Zeller (11 points, nine rebounds). "This is the first time we've had Torin in a situation with foul trouble", Brey said. "Rick came in and gave us a great lift. I think Luke Zeller's offense was a key to giving us some breathing room, and that's one of the reasons we start him. He can make a shot from out there when the second big guy is turning his head."
"My job is to be ready to go whenever I'm needed", Cornett grinned. "Last time, I started the game, and this time, I didn't start. Every time, it's a different challenge. I just have to stay focused mentally."
Zeller expressed a similar sentiment. "I just go out there and play my role and let the game come to me. When you have players that complement each other as well as we do, a different player can step up every night."
Kyle MacAlarney continued a solid frosh campaign in his 23 minutes, with his defensive pressure and two key treys helping to ignite the 22-4 Irish run that slammed the door in the Rams' face for good. Although his aggressiveness sometimes led to forced plays and turnovers, he and his teammates see it as a growing experience.
"As each game comes," he said later, "and you get in there more and more, you progress as a player more. I can see it in myself. There will be times that I'll make freshman mistakes and have bad games, but that'll happen to everybody. You just have to play hard, fight through it, and concentrate on getting better."
"I don't consider them to be freshmen anymore," Quinn asserted. "They've played in a lot of big games for us so far. We're in our tenth game of the season, and those guys are almost veterans already."
Through it all, Quinn remained the calm leader. Just about fully recovered from his pre-Christmas ankle injury, the senior flirted with a triple double, leading the Irish with 14 points while pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out eight assists.
"We need him healthy, we need him confident, and we need him aggressive," Brey said. He certainly did that tonight. I think he's close to 100 percent. He's just got to play with that swagger, and the rest of those guys are confident. So is his coach."
Can the Irish make performances like this the rule this season? The staff would certainly like it. "That was the smoothest our eight guys that are in our rotation right now looked," Brey said. "They really played well off of each other. That's the best I've felt substituting ... we didn't lose any momentum. I don't know if we've ever had this many guys flowing and shooting the ball well. I would like to see us build on that, because they know what's coming next week."