The Irish played with passion, grit, and a refuse to lose attitude for 49-plus minutes without the presence of their star player.
In another odd twist, a pair of Irish basketball managers were asked to wash more than seven team uniforms last night, which likely added to the growing list of Irish ‘backers peeved with the recent results put forth by head coach Mike Brey.
Below is our player-by-player look at Wednesday night's effort with a few thoughts on a pair of freshmen you've unfortunately never heard from in 13 previous conference contests.
Future Award Winner – Tim AbromaitisThe first-year contributor is the leading candidate for the Big East's Most Improved Player award at season's end. Without speaking out of turn and with an admitted focus on Big East basketball in my free time this season…why not the nation?
Abro entered the season with 20 career points in 12 games and 40 total minutes of action, all of which occurred in the 2007-08 season as the junior from Unionville, CT was withheld from last year, his sophomore season.
Through 27 games this season, the redshirt-junior has average 17.3 points per game in just over 30 minutes of action. He's third on the team in rebounds at nearly five per contest and has knocked down shots at a record-setting pace, hitting 75 of 153 three-point attempts, a 49 percent clip that ranks second nationally. (At 6'8" Abromaitis is the tallest player listed among the country's top 50 three-point marksmen.) He's connected on 53.2 percent of his shots from the field (45th in the nation) and drilled 87.5 percent of his 104 free throw attempts (19th nationally and second highest among non-guards on the list).
(To fully appreciate Abromaitis efficiency, consider he ranks ahead of Louisville post-player Samardo Samuels in field goal percentage. As Irish fans can now attest, the bulk of Samuels points are scored within five feet or at the charity stripe.)
Last night, Abromaitis led the Irish with 29 points (a road-court career-high) and chipped in five rebounds (third on the squad) in 45 exhausting minutes (third behind Jackson and Hansbrough). He scored in the first half (11 points); in the second stanza (8); and in both overtimes (8 and 2 respectively). He hit spot-up mid-range shots (3), pull-up jumpers/floaters (4) and finished at the rim (2), three-pointers (2 of 4) and free throws (5 of 6).
Abromaitis delivered what appeared to be a dagger three-point shot in the first overtime, giving the Irish a 79-77 lead with under a minute to play, but for the third time in as many games, Notre Dame could not come up with a key stop and the game entered a second extra session.
Considering the defensive opponent, setting, and circumstances (sans Harangody), Abromaitis played the best game of his college career last night in Freedom Hall. (His non-attempt with the Irish down two in the final moments of the second overtime is discussed in a Part II.)
Key to the Contest – Tory JacksonWhile Tim Abromaitis or Ben Hansbrough's name could have appeared here as well, neither shooter was the recipient of the 50 minutes of hell endured by Notre Dame's senior point guard.
Jackson, who did not score in the game's first 17-plus minutes, finished with 19 points, 7 assists, and 5 turnovers while playing the full 50 minutes vs. Louisville's pressure defense. Harried for 94 feet from the outset, Jackson keyed a 9-4 run with five points and two assists to end the half and draw the Irish to within one, 37-36 at the break.
The erratic shooter hit two 3-point buckets, a pull-up jumper and four free throws in the second half
Notre Dame will have more accurate point guards in the future. They'll likely be quicker, flashier, and likely even better college basketball players. But, like Tyrone Nash before him on Sunday (vs. St. John's) Tory Jackson gave Notre Dame a chance to win last night with his determination and effort as the teams traded blows over the final 30 minutes.
Accepting the Challenge – Ben HansbroughThe Irish senior played his usual stellar first half, scoring 11 points and knocking down three shots from long range. As has been the case in each of the team's last four outings, Hansbrough's second-half performance declined, as the combo guard missed four of five 3-point shots and two key free throws with the Irish clinging to a three-point lead (and a legitimate chance to put the game on ice) at the 1:14 mark of regulation.
But Hansbrough responded in the overtime sessions, knocking down 10 of 10 free throws, each earned by determined, one-on-one drives to the bucket as the weary Irish offense struggled vs. Louisville's perimeter defense.
If Hansbrough can add a pull-up jump shot to his penetration game, he'll be a very difficult cover in end game situations next season.
Hansbrough finished with a Big East career-high 21 points and led the Irish with eight rebounds (all defensive) in 48 minutes.
10 Pounds from Glory – Carleton ScottScott earned the first start of his Irish career and finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 1 steal, 1 assist; hit each of his four free throws; knocked down a three-point bucket to give the Irish a one-point lead with 3:08 remaining, and fouled out after a career-high 34 minutes (in the second overtime).
Scott was noticeably too small to defend the sophomore Samuels in the post and should continue his weight program (he entered school at 185 and is currently listed at 217 with two more seasons of eligibility remaining.
As with the freshman big man duo discussed above, Scott's confidence should peak after his admirable effort in hostile territory. The arrow is finally officially pointing up for Scott and he deserves a solid 20 minutes per contest to conclude the 2010 season.