Irish Play With Chip On Their Shoulders

SOUTH BEND - If the Notre Dame basketball team ever thought they had something stole from them, it was the game at DePaul two weeks ago. When the Blue Demons came into the Joyce Center on Tuesday night, the Irish players dished out the punishment, sending a message to the visitors that they were lucky to get the first one.

Wilson Chandler's dunk off a Draelon Burns steal that ended up giving DePaul a 67-66 win, replayed in the minds of Notre Dame players. So when the ball went up for the opening tip, the 23rd-ranked Irish weren't messing around. Notre Dame led every minute, built up an 18-point halftime lead, and finished off the Blue Demons, 78-54.

"We were pissed," senior captain Colin Falls stated. "I don't know how else to say it. We were, and I think that was kind of our motivation and our hunger and what was driving us tonight. We weren't going to lose this ball game."

Falls had reason to be madder than anybody. It was his pocket that was picked by Burns that led to the game-winning flush by Chandler with 18 seconds left. Since that moment, the 6-foot-5 guard has been on a mission, leading the team in scoring and to wins the last three contests.

On the game's first possession, Falls drilled a 3-pointer. He went on to make three more, finishing the half 6-of-9 from the floor and the 3-of-3 from the charity stripe, for all 19 of his game-high points.

"Here is a senior coming down the stretch playing his best basketball at the right time," coach Mike Brey said. "I think it tells you, you have a winner in Colin Falls when he is in a groove when the most is on the table."

"We were in a great rhythm, guys were taking good shots, we were stepping up and making them," Falls explained. "We can be a tough team to guard."

And a tough team to gauge. Where do the Irish fit in as far as the postseason is concerned?

Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5) is in position to get into position. If it wasn't already solidified, the win over DePaul (16-12, 7-7) makes the Irish an NCAA lock. Nobody is laughing now like they were back in October, when Brey and his guys were talking about getting an invitation to the dance.

Now the team is talking about what it needs to do to get a Big East tournament bye, and what it needs to do to get a great NCAA tournament seed, and play close to home.

Two more wins to finish out the regular season, and a win in the Big East tournament, and the Irish could end up playing in Chicago, and could be seeded as high as four or five. If Notre Dame plays the way they did in whipping DePaul, they're not a one weekend team either.

Brey talked after the game about the team winning its 17th home game of the year, a program record, is something special the guys on the team could come back to reunions and brag about. They could have something even more special to gloat about. Possibly a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

It's amazing, a season that had no expectations coming in, a preseason 11th place prediction in the Big East, could end with tears on the bench of a Sweet 16 or even Elite Eight NCAA Tournament game. Who'd dare to think even further than that?

But first things first. No. 16 Marquette comes to the Joyce Center on Saturday, tied for fourth in the conference with the Irish. The winner likely gets one of those coveted four byes in the 12-team Big East tournament, a chance to win a couple games and solidify a great seed in the dance. The loser will be looking at a tough road in New York, a low seed in the tournament, and a likely first or second round NCAA tournament exit.

That is unless of course, the Irish feel like they were jobbed somewhere, and play with the same chip on their shoulder they had against DePaul.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories