Be Like Tim

With the greatest basketball player of all-time in attendance, Irish junior forward Tim Abromaitis exploded for a career high in his first start.

Four firsts occurred Sunday afternoon at the Purcell Pavilion:

Notably, NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan made his first appearance to watch the Irish (and his freshman son, Marcus score 9 points and grab 6 rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench for the Knights).

Additionally, junior Tim Abromaitis recorded his first career college start; he later missed his first free throw of his career after hitting his first 18; and finally (and most importantly for the 2009-10 Irish), Abromaitis became the first Irish player other than Luke Harangody to top the 19-point mark this season, finishing with a career-high 31 points, the first time this season that a player other than Luke Harangody led the Irish in scoring.

"I felt comfortable but I was still missing some shots that I thought I could have made," Abromaitis observed. "I was just ‘finding shots' is the best way to put it. My teammates found me on cuts and that sort of thing.

The 6'8" 235-pound forward hit 10 of 17 attempts from the field including a 3-7 effort from beyond the arc. And in what could signal a change-of-pace from seasons' past, Abromaitis earned nine free throw attempts, hitting eight in 35 minutes of action.

Was his approach entering the contest any different as a starter?

"Not really, sometimes it's an advantage to come off the bench to get a feel from the game first but today I just had to come out with intensity right from the start."

Though clearly Abromaitis' best effort to date, veteran Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw was well-aware of the sharp-shooting junior entering the contest.

"Tim Abromaitis came in and gave them a tremendous lift offensively," offered Speraw. "He worried me. I've been impressed with him the way he's been playing all year long. He's not just a shooter…as you watch him he's well-rounded and does a lot of things well.

"Tonight I thought he played pretty good defense, too. He had a great game for them and will be huge as the season progresses."

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey was understandably pleased with Abromaitis' response to his first career start.

"Abromaitis was fabulous but he's been really good and he's been coming (along). We felt it was time to start him and have another offensive guy on the floor because (teams) double Harangody at times. It made us bigger and he keeps answering every bell. I'm really proud of his development."

Aiding Abromaitis' career effort was senior All American forward Luke Harangody who finished with 29 points and 7 rebounds. Though he missed the final five minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, Harangody knocked down 11 of 13 shots from the field after missing his first three attempts (all near the three-point line) while hitting each of his seven free throw attempts.

The Irish employed their now regular home-court pattern of 2009, starting slowly defensively while scoring with the opponent before returning with renewed defensive intensity in the second half. After playing to a 41-41 tie in the first 20 minutes, Notre Dame limited the Knights to 10 points in the first seven minutes and just six more in the six minutes that followed in the second stanza.

Notre Dame has held a single-digit advantage entering the halftime break in each of its last six home outings including three games in which they were tied or led by just three points at intermission.

"We had our butts on the line," explained senior guard Tory Jackson. "(Central Florida) was playing tough; giving it their all so we really had to turn it up and we did that."

Notre Dame's second half surge was briefly tempered by the loss of Jackson to what appeared to be a serious ankle injury at the 13:28 mark of the second half. Jackson was assisted to the locker room but later jogged back to the bench much to the delight of the home crowd.

Channeling Jordan

Irish players were understandably buzzing about Jordan's presence in their arena, but none more so than Tory Jackson.

"It's an honor to have my favorite athlete of all-time (in the arena)," Jackson offered of the elder Jordan's presence. "He probably saw a little of himself in Tim Abromaitis…

"I'm thankful to have a guy like that come to our game and see a great performance and a great game."

Jackson gave Jordan and the rest of the Purcell Pavilion crowd a highlight reel moment with a slick ball fake under the basket for a bucket during Notre Dame's decisive 15-6 run to begin the second half.

The maneuver is apparently patent pending:

"I was telling people, Kobe (Bryant) and Jordan have the fade away," Jackson explained. "I have the ball fake. I'm hoping to re-name it one day."

Did the Irish senior sneak a peak in the direction of his athletic hero (Jordan was located in the crow's nest above section 110).

"I tried not to but it's hard when you have your favorite player of all-time upstairs in your home arena. I caught myself looking way too long, too."

Jackson dealt out nine assists and in the process, passed former Irish point guard Tim "Mouse" Singleton (1987-91) for third-place on the school's career assist list. Jackson currently has 556 assists and needs 31 to move past the legendary David Rivers (1984-88) for second all-time.

Juniors Rule

Junior Carleton Scott gave the Irish yet another good effort off the bench, finishing with six points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.

Scott also offered his red-hot classmate a facetious hand to the forehead (checking to make sure Abromaitis wasn't burning during his 31-point explosion).

"Just feeling it today," Scott said of his continued improvement and effort off the bench. "We had a slow start in the first half and just had to pick it up again in the second.

"We have to knuckle down but sometimes we're trying to feel out the game. We have to (learn to) come out and start the games like we do the second halves."

Brey noted the efforts of Scott and fellow junior Tyrone Nash as well.

"Carleton Scott and Nash gave us good minutes in the 4-man (power forward) spot. They kind of split it and gave us good minutes there."

Nash finished with seven points and five rebounds for the Irish who shot 55% for the contest including a 27-41 effort inside the three-point line. Notre Dame connected on 21 of 25 foul shots with Abromaitis, Harangody, and senior Ben Hansbrough (11 points and 4 assists) knocking down 20 of 23 over the course of the contest.

At 8-1, Notre Dame's next game is Wednesday night as the Irish entertain IUPUI in South Bend. Top Stories