Remember Carroll, Forget Loss

With five losses in its last eight games, Notre Dame is going the wrong way at precisely the wrong time. It is also on the verge of being officially the worst Irish defensive team in eight years of Big East play. But the most unsettling element of Tuesday's 92-88 setback to Syracuse is that Matt Carroll left the Joyce Center for the final time without a W.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

March 4, 2003

'Cuse Denies Carroll
His Just Reward

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

(IE) – The loss is painful, but will be forgotten.  The memory of Matt Carroll playing in Notre Dame blue and gold will, thankfully, linger for many, many years. 

The Irish senior had a spectacular final game at the sold-out Joyce Center Tuesday night, scoring a game-high 28 points while draining a career-best eight three-point jumpers.  Still, what the captain would have given for just one more trey as Notre Dame dropped a 92-88 heartbreaker to Syracuse. 

After rallying from a 21-point first-half deficit to tie the score at 86 and 88, Notre Dame trailed 90-88 and was setting up for a final shot.  The script called for Carroll to come around a screen, establish his balance, and hit one more signature, high-lofting three.  What better way to snap a losing streak? 

Alas, Carroll did not get a touch and sophomore point guard Chris Thomas missed a three from well beyond the top of the key.  Syracuse rebounded, Kueth Duany ultimately sank two free throws, and it was over: Carroll's home career and Notre Dame's hopes of securing a bye in the Big East Tournament.   

"I'll live with that look every night," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who admirably has defended the shot selection of Thomas all season.  Most in attendance, though, probably would have preferred the senior to have the look. And it was Carroll's three with just over two to play that forged the first tie. 

"When that one went in," said Carroll, "I thought it was ours." 

But fate on this night proved to be as cold as the Northern Indiana night.  Carroll left the building with 290 career three-point baskets and 120 starts – both school records.  His teammates left having to ponder statistics far less glorious. 

To wit: 

  • The 21-8 Irish are now 9-6 in the Big East and have lost three straight conference games for the first time since 2000.
  • This Irish team is allowing an average of 76.26 points per game, dead last in the Big East.  If Georgetown scores 40 points or more on Saturday it will be officially the worst defensive Notre Dame in its eight year Big East tenure.
  • Notre Dame allowed 90 points in consecutive Big East games for the first time ever.
  • With Syracuse hitting five-of-11 three-pointers, the Irish have now allowed Big East opposition to hit 40-percent of three-point attempts this year, 144-for-240.  That's 288 points on 240 shots, translating to 60-percent on traditional two-point shots.

Because of all this, Brey's team can finish no better than fourth in the East Division, its lowest standing since the conference went back to two divisions in 2001.  It will open Big East Tournament play at Madison Square Garden next Wednesday at 12 noon, likely against  St. John's.    

But this contest also represented progress.  Unlike the 95-82 defeat at lowly Rutgers Saturday, the Irish competed heroically.  Carroll, Thomas (16 points), Torin Francis (19 points, 11 rebounds) and reserve guard Chris Quinn (eight points and three assists in 25 minutes that gave a positive glimpse of the future) gave No. 12 Syracuse fits in the second-half. 

Ultimately, though, the 22-4 Orangemen – the hottest team in the Big East and one of the five or six best in the country the month of February – had too many weapons.  Syracuse built its early lead on the strength of three-point shooting by Gerry McNamara (20 points), maintained control through due to the dribble penetration moves by  Billy Edelin (career-high 26 points), and ultimately won it on a put-back by the consensus choice for Freshman of the Year Carmelo Anthony (21 points).  Add the high-flying flushes of Hakin Warrick (14 points, 13 rebounds) and this is one team that is a pleasure to watch. 

"I'm proud of our guys in fighting back," said Brey.  "If we haven't learned our lesson after three straight losses, I don't know what it is going to take." 

Notre Dame, with a bruised ego and fatigued bodies, almost had enough to pull it out at the end in front of a sold-out audience that alternated between being supportive and a jury box.  The hearts and minds that were won in December have apparently started to waver as post-season approaches. 

There's one shot left to end the regular season on a good note. The Irish visit the MCI


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