And that same crowd stuck around watch the Irish absorb nine second-half 3-point buckets, a 13-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, and vicious man-to-man defense from the visitors before hanging on for a thrilling 70-68 victory over No. 8 West Virginia at the Purcell Pavilion.
For 20 minutes Saturday night, Mike Brey's Irish buried the Mountaineers with determined drives, seamless ball movement and motion offensively, and committed help defense en route to a 20-point halftime advantage.
But West Virginia's lockdown man-to-man defense stymied the Irish attack in the second stanza, whittling the 20-point margin to eight, 54-46 at the 11:47 mark; to five, 65-60 with just over six minutes remaining; and eventually to one, 67-66 with 4:49 to play.
After three key defensive stops in the final three minutes, the Mountaineers took possession of the ball, down 70-68 with 21 seconds remaining. With a foul to give before West Virginia would enter the free throw bonus, Notre Dame junior forward Tim Abromaitis (17 points, 8 rebounds) committed a purposeful foul against Mountaineers senior Da'Sean Butler, a ploy that forced West Virginia out of its offensive set with eight seconds remaining.
Without a timeout, the Mountaineers adjusted their original play-call on the fly and the result was a potential game-winning three-point shot by Butler that rimmed in and out as time expired, giving the home squad a thrilling two-point victory.
"The shot we wanted we had the first time when they fouled…we knew they were going to foul," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins explained. "Then Da'Sean changed it. And I don't fault him, I don't mean that in a bad way. He felt (ND) saw what we were going to do and they would guard it differently (as a result).
"I didn't have any timeouts, so…he's made shots like that before. It almost went in."
Conducting a clinicThe Mountaineers stayed within 20 points in the opening half due solely to their dominance on the offensive glass, holding a 13-0 edge over the Irish. Then again, Notre Dame knocked down 18 of 24 shots in the first half, so the failure to collect any of their six misses could be overlooked.
Hansbrough controlled the first half with determined drives to the bucket, dishing out 9 assists (without an error), and along with Jackson, provided the constantly cutting Tyrone Nash with his first-half perfect 5-5 effort from the field.
"(He) took advantage of the lack of help-side (defense) today," Nash offered of his first half effort. "Ben got down there, found me for easy layups, and we just took advantage of that."
Hansbrough also assisted on four Luke Harangody jump shots and a 3-point goal by freshman Joey Brooks as well as a bomb by Abromaitis in the opening 20 minutes, while Jackson chipped in with five assists of his own in the first stanza.
"You have to give credit to Tyrone Nash," Hansbrough stated. "And ‘Gody, Tory, Tim…getting out there and finding their shots. They really move well.
"We have some great players that move off the ball. If you watch Abro, every time somebody drives he's cutting to the basket. It's an automatic assist, I guess."
Digging in defensivelyWhile Notre Dame's offensive efficiency and ball movement were the unquestioned stories of the first half, the final 20 minutes belonged to the Mountaineers stifling man-to-man defense. West Virginia hounded the Irish into long, fruitless possessions and a 5-19 effort from the field.
"They got up in us," Harangody explained of the Mountaineers' defensive effort. "A lot of credit goes to them and we just had trouble getting into our offense. They kind of took us out of that flow we had in the first half."
In addition to their smothering defense, the visitors drained five of nine shots from beyond the arc during the 21-9 run to open the half, cutting the Irish lead to eight at 54-46 with 11:18 remaining.
"We got out on their shooters," Harangody said. "It wasn't like they were knocking down open looks."
What changed for Huggins and the Mountaineers in the second stanza?
"We just took out a couple of players…the game plan was to do that the whole game. But (Joe) Mazzulla gave us good minutes (off the bench) putting pressure on the ball. He was probably the major difference. And then just getting some guys out that weren't getting it done."
Huggins obvious reference was to enigmatic sophomore forward Devin Ebanks, who in addition to indifferent defense, did not score while attempting just four shots in 19 minutes…16 of which occurred in the first half.
What was wrong with the forward with NBA potential?
"You'll have to ask him. I don't know."
A turning point for the stagnant Irish offense occurred at the 9:34 mark, when West Virginia freshman forward Danny Jennings fouled Abromaitis going after an offensive board and the Irish entered a bonus situation for the remainder of the contest. From there, Notre Dame knocked down 10 of 16 free throw attempts (though failed to connect on their final three down the stretch) to keep West Virginia at bay.
Position of strengthWith the win, the Irish move to 3-1 in Big East play for just the third season in Brey's 10 at the University (and the first since 2007). Notre Dame has defeated the Mountaineers 10 straight in South Bend, last losing during the John MacLoed era in 1996.
The win was Notre Dame's first over a ranked opponent this season.
"We're thrilled to be 3-1," Brey offered post-game. "We'll need some rest before we play again."
"This is a huge win for us. In conference play you need to protect your home floor. Sitting 3-1 in the Big East with a week off before Cincinnati isn't a bad place right now."
Harangody led all scorers with 24 points (9-15 from the field). With his first bucket Saturday night, Harangody moved pass Irish legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley (1973-76) into second place on the school's career scoring list. Harangody needs 314 points in his remaining 15-plus games to overtake Austin Carr (1968-71) as the program's all-time leading scorer.
"Adrian Dantley's one of the greatest players ever to play the game. He had a great career here so it's an honor to be in the same sentence as him."
The Irish have a week to prepare for their next contest, a Saturday afternoon tilt in Cincinnati. Tip-off is set for 4 PM (ET) on ESPNU. Notre Dame's next home game is Monday, January 18 as the Syracuse Orange visit South Bend as part of ESPN's Big Monday double-header.
Note: IrishEyes will have more on the West Virginia victory in its regular post-game player-by-player review to be published Sunday.