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With seniors on the bench, the Irish struggle Saturday

Matt Lozar | Monday, December 8, 2003

Two senior captains could only watch from the bench as a young Notre Dame team let a five-point lead slip away.

With Torrian Jones and Tom Timmermans in street clothes, Irish coach Mike Brey had no seniors on the floor Saturday night, and five of his seven players were sophomores or freshmen.

It showed all night.

The MAC champion Chippewas came into a lethargic Joyce Center and were poised to upset the Irish. They didn’t care that the Irish were their sixth opponent in 13 days. They didn’t care about starting the year 1-4 and the loss of three starters, including one NBA lottery pick. They wanted to stun a Sweet 16 from a year ago on its home court.

The Irish weren’t ready for that type of challenge.

The Irish let the Chippewas control just about the entire game. It might not show up in the stats, but Central Michigan outhustled the Irish all night.

Down two key players in his rotation, Brey had to call on freshman Colin Falls to make his first collegiate start and play 33 minutes. Fellow freshman Russell Carter gave Brey seven minutes after playing for only a combined six minutes in Notre Dame’s first three games.

While those two freshmen held their own, without the senior leaders, Brey needed his star players to step up.

Yes, the Irish made 75 percent of their free throws in the second half, but two of those misses, one from Chris Quinn and Jordan Cornette, came in the last 15 seconds when the Irish could have iced this one.

Chris Thomas had the match-up on 5-foot-6 Joe Carr on the last play. Carr pump-faked Thomas, who is at least half a foot taller than Carr and got an open look at the bucket. Regardless that Carr might have had a toe on the line, Thomas was out of position.

The Chippewas did a good job of denying Torin Francis the ball and forcing him outside the key. Brey doesn’t want Francis catching the ball out there. He needs the sophomore down low banging around to get good post position.

Brey is looking to all four of those players, two of them captains, to show leadership on the floor in a difficult situation like Saturday night.

Central Michigan was a dangerous opponent for Notre Dame. The Irish were coming off a 13-point loss at Marquette and have Indiana on the schedule Wednesday. It made perfect sense as to why the Irish would overlook this team. All the signs were there for the upset.

It came one year after one of the greatest weeks in Notre Dame basketball history when the Irish beat three top 10 teams in the country and vaulted into the top 10 itself.

But even without Jones and Timmermans, even with playing uninspired basketball for most of the game, the Irish had a very realistic chance to close this one out at the end.

All night the leadership wasn’t there.

For Brey to avoid having the Irish below .500 for the first time since he took over in South Bend, that leadership needs to be there Wednesday night against the Hoosiers, a team Notre Dame hasn’t defeated since 1994.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily The Observer. Contact Matt Lozar at mlozar@nd.edu.