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No Francis, no problem in 71-68 Irish win

Pat Leonard | Monday, February 16, 2004

The game plan was different and so were the results.Despite the absence of sophomore forward Torin Francis, Notre Dame (12-9, 6-5 Big East) got its second straight conference victory in a 71-68 win over Seton Hall (16-6, 6-4) at the Joyce Center Saturday afternoon.”Everybody’s really picking it up,” junior guard Chris Thomas said. “You can’t replace a double-double in Torin, but we’re picking up the intensity and playing with a tremendous amount of confidence.”The team announced Friday game that Francis – who averages 14.8 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game – is out indefinitely due to a bulging disk in his lower back.Notre Dame lacked a consistent low-post threat, but Irish coach Mike Brey and the Irish changed the offensive scheme to cater to the personnel on the court.Without Francis, the Irish created spacing on offense and became more active on defense.Notre Dame out-rebounded (37-32), out-assisted (16-15) and outscored its opponent, a Seton Hall team that sits fourth in the Big East and has wins over Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse – all teams which have defeated the Irish.Thomas led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting, including 19 in the second half. He also finished with seven rebounds and four assists.”Thomas made a lot of good shots,” Brey said. “I’ve always thought he is a second half player, and he came out in the second half. His conditioning is what really paid off. In the second half, the other players got tired but Thomas didn’t.”The Irish had four players in double figures, including Thomas, Torrian Jones (13), Chris Quinn (10) and Tom Timmermans (10).Both teams began the game with poor shooting. The Pirates made 35.5 percent of their first-half field goals, with the Irish shooting just 37.1 percent.Seton Hall point guard Andre Barrett led all scorers at halftime with 11 points. The Irish, however, got five or more points from five different players in the half. Sophomore forward Rick Cornett, who is receiving more playing time due to Francis’ injury, had six first-half points during a scoring drought for both teams.Jones, Thomas and Quinn accounted for 14 of the 16 total Irish assists, due in large part to the success of a drive-and-kick method the guards employed Saturday. The team turned the ball over just nine times while managing to spread out the offense and execute the motion offense Brey has installed.”On the offensive end without Torin, we play more five out on the perimeter,” Quinn said. “[That] leaves open driving lanes. [We] did a good job of getting into the lane, and Seton Hall was really collapsing on us. We just found the open guy.”Notre Dame expanded its lead in the early second half to seven points after Jones converted a basket off a pass from Quinn, but Seton Hall would score eight of the next 10 points. Pirates’ forward Kelly Whitney, who had 18 points, gave the Irish problems down low, scoring 12 points in the second half. Barrett – who finished with a team-high 20 points – reached the foul line and made key plays to keep his team in the game.Thomas, however, had the upper hand on the day, scoring nine points in an 11-6 Irish run and making key shots toward the game’s finish.The Irish shot 43.9 percent from the field and just 29.4 percent from the 3-point arc, but the team took care of the ball and used baseline drives and pick-and-rolls off of Timmermans and Cornette to get 23 free throw attempts and establish solid ball control.The effort the team gave Saturday gives the Irish hope for a test at Syracuse tonight.”We have a tremendous amount of momentum right now [going into Syracuse],” Thomas said. “With Torin going out, everybody’s turned their back on us. If we continue to play like this, we’ll give the [NCAA tournament] selection committee a great run for their money.”

Note:Thomas missed a foul shot and erased hope of being a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe late in the game Saturday.With the miss, Thomas came one point shy of tying his own career record of most points in back-to-back games. Thomas scored 31 points versus Connecticut and 26 points against Seton Hall, amounting to 57 points in two games. Thomas scored 58 points in two consecutive games at West Virginia (26) and Miami (32) as a freshman.