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Chippewas stun Irish at final buzzer

Andrew Soukup | Monday, December 8, 2003

The silence in the Notre Dame locker room spoke volumes – just as the silence in the Joyce Center was deafening only minutes earlier.

With Notre Dame leading a surprisingly resilient Central Michigan team by two points with 3.8 seconds on the clock, Chippewas guard Joe Carr grabbed the inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the floor and drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired. The stunned Irish – and the rest of the Notre Dame fans in the Joyce Center – could only watch as Central Michigan pranced around the court celebrating their 69-68 win.

“You feel your whole body slump,” Jordan Cornette said softly, his voice sounding like a jet taking off in a locker room otherwise devoid of sound. “There’s no other way to explain it. You see the shot go up, you got this feeling like, ‘This ball cannot go in. This ball cannot go in.’

“Then it goes in, and you lose all feeling in your body.”

The loss, Notre Dame’s second straight, came with seniors Torrian Jones and Tom Timmermans sidelined with injuries. And although freshman Colin Falls scored 11 points in his first collegiate start, shorthanded Notre Dame clearly missed the seniors’ presence.

In fact, Notre Dame, after taking a 2-0 lead, trailed for most of the game. The Irish didn’t recapture the lead until Chris Thomas banked in a 15-foot jumper with 2:05 remaining to give Notre Dame a 60-59 advantage. Notre Dame added two more points a minute later on Chris Quinn free throws, and, when Thomas hit a 14-foot floater with 29.1 seconds left, the Irish held a five-point lead.

“Most teams,” Irish coach Mike Brey said, “get down five in this atmosphere here and don’t get it.”

But 10 seconds later, Kevin Nelson drained a 3-pointer to keep the Irish within two, and Quinn only made one of two free-throws with 18.7 seconds on the clock. Cornette fouled Tony Bowne while the guard was hoisting a 3-pointer, and the Chippewa made two free-throws to make the score 65-64.

With 8.3 seconds left, Thomas made two free-throws to give the Irish a 3-point lead and then intentionally fouled Carr with 5.0 seconds left. Carr hit both free throws, but 1.2 seconds later, Cornette made only one of two free-throw attempts, setting the stage for Carr’s last-second heroics.

“His foot was on the line,” maintained Thomas, who finished with a game-high 24 points. But the referees called the shot a 3-pointer, and Notre Dame fell to 2-2.

The Irish had problems all night finding their offense against a tough Central Michigan defense. Notre Dame made only 6-of-22 3-point attempts and shot 36 percent from the field. Central Michigan, meanwhile, lit up the Irish in the first half by shooting 59 percent from the floor.

For Notre Dame, Torin Francis took just five shots – he made only one – and finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Quinn added 13, and all five Irish starters played more than 30 minutes.

“We’ve got some guys that are banged up, two of our seniors, but we try to play through that,” Francis said. “We didn’t come out hard, and you see a lack of that leadership on the floor.”

As much as Notre Dame struggled early in the game, key mistakes down the stretch contributed to the Irish loss. Cornette said the Irish missed too many chances to grab rebounds or loose balls that would have put the game away. And Cornette and Quinn both missed free throws in the final 30 seconds that would have iced the game for the Irish.

“It’s the fourth game of the season, and our guys are devastated,” Brey said. “Their heads are down, and we have to play 30 more games here. They have to get their heads up.”