"Pretty Boys" No More

After getting pounded inside by Pittsburgh, Jordan Cornette and his teammates felt they were labeled the "pretty boys" of the Big East Conference. Doing the "little, dirty things," Cornette and Torrian Jones led a stepped-up defensive effort that suffocated Rutgers, providing a much-needed victory before a three-game road trip. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports courtside from the Joyce Center.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

January 14, 2003

Irish Get Ugly
With Scarlet Knights

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NOTRE DAME, IN (IE) – Tired of hearing his teammates called the "Pretty boys of the Big East," Jordan Cornette set out to toughen up Notre Dame's conference image.

"We don't want to be known as a team that can just knock down the jump shots," said Cornette, the Irish's 6-9 starting center. "Teams got to know that we are a strong defensive team that likes to mix it up."

For the first 20 minutes at the Joyce Center Tuesday night, Notre Dame lived up – or down – to its rep.  Visiting Rutgers shot 48-percent from the field and had a 36-35 halftime advantage.  Worse, the Scarlet Knights were abusing Irish big men Torin Francis and Tom Timmermans in the paint.

But Cornette, and an athletic quintet that also featured Torrian Jones, came to the rescue in the second-half.  Notre Dame held Rutgers to just 21 points and one field goal in a 12-minute stretch, en route to a satisfying 68-57 victory before 11,054, including a full-throated Leprechaun Legion.

Cornette was the surprise star.    Logging 33 minutes, he blocked eight shots, secured seven rebounds, scored eight points, and played smart.  After losing his starting berth for seven games, the sophomore doesn't look like he's willing to give it back up.

"We got to have a big guy who can guard a big guy one-on-one," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "Torin and Tom could not do that tonight.  But we found a guy who could."

Brey's 10th ranked team has won two straight in conference play, is 14-2 overall, and now heads out for three on the road, starting with a "free one" Saturday at Kentucky.  Visits to Providence (Tuesday) and Boston College (Jan. 25) follow.   The Irish's new-found toughness should come in handy.

"The rap on us is that we are not tough, that you get underneath us on defense and we give it away," Jones told IrishEyes last night. "That's not something any team wants to have for a scouting report.   Tonight we came out in the second-half and did the little tough, dirty things.  We played defense like we know how and we set the tempo, instead of reacting."

And that tempo was set, largely, by the supreme athleticism of Cornette and Jones, two players who could be All-Stars in a mid-major conference, but have to "settle" for key supporting roles in this suddenly star-studded program.

Matt Carroll matched his Big East scoring average with 25 points – sinking five-of-nine treys – and moved into 11th place in the Notre Dame all-time scoring list with 1,507 points.  But he gladly deferred the spotlight on this night to Cornette.

"Jordan, I tell you, what a dimension he brings to our team," Carroll marveled. "He's so good at getting his hands on the ball, he gets great position, and is a lot quicker than a lot of the guys we play against.  And he passes very well too.  One pass to me tonight for a three, I don't know how he got the ball to me."

Point guard Chris Thomas played every tick, scoring 19 points (16 in the first-half) while dishing out seven assists.  It wasn't vintage (five turnovers), but Brey felt Cornette and Jones provided a huge assist to Number 1.

"We're so skilled sometimes," Brey said, "that we want a degree of difficulty play, we want to thread the ball in there. That's why it's good to have Jordan Cornette and Torrian Jones on the floor.  They just convey the ball.  Just to move the ball to the other side of the floor and cut.  That's OK."

Brey was so enamored with the quintet of Cornette, Dan Miller, Carroll, Jones and Thomas, that he left them on the floor from 47-45 Rutgers with 11:30 to play, until the final 30 seconds.  It is easily Notre Dame's most athletic, versatile group, and expect to see much, much more of it.

"When Jordan and I are on the floor together we, bring intensity and change the tempo of the game," said Jones, who had four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes. "We challenge the team to come at us and score on us."

With Jones' long wing span and outstanding leaping ability serving as an asset, Notre Dame held Rutgers to eight-for-28 (29-percent) shooting in the second-half.  The Scarlet Knights' starting guards – Mike Sherrod and preseason second-team All-Big East Jerome Coleman – were a combined five-for-19. 

The State University of New Jersey is now 8-6 overall, 0-2 in the Big East.  Well-coached by the classy and thoroughly entertaining Gary Waters, the Scarlet Knights were done in this night by a team that simply was more adaptable and athletic.  "For 30 minutes we had everyone in the arena scared," said Waters. "But Notre Dame is not a T

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