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Ducks fly into Joyce for last home game

Matt Lozar | Thursday, March 25, 2004

Another NIT game and another game with major implications for the Irish.

Notre Dame doesn’t have any geographic connections to tonight’s opponent Oregon, but coming out victorious over the Ducks gets the Irish two things – 20 wins for the fourth year in a row and a trip back to Madison Square Garden.

Add in the fact this game is undoubtedly the last at the Joyce Center this season, and once again, it’s not a boring game in “that other postseason tournament.”

“It’s definitely been fun, that’s because we are playing against great teams and players who don’t want their season to end,” Notre Dame guard Chris Thomas said. “It’s great because we are one of the few teams still playing right now, and we are fighting to play another day.”

After the frenzied atmosphere in Fort Wayne, Ind., Thomas feels the Irish are now ready to appreciate playing at home on a new level. Six losses at the Joyce Center this year lost the home-court advantage.

“It was wonderful to have 12,000 fans in ND shirts. We were in awe of the whole atmosphere,” Thomas said. “Maybe we take our fans for granted, and sometimes they take us for granted because we don’t come out and perform like it’s a home-court all the time.

“Playing at Fort Wayne inspired us to give our fans our all.”

Since this game is being played opposite the NCAA tournament, it won’t be on national television and will keep these two teams in the shadows of the NCAA Sweet 16 games.

That’s a major reason why the Irish want a win so badly. A win gets them two more games in front of the country for everyone to watch.

“For us, if we are able to get back to New York, there are only eight teams playing college basketball that week, all on national TV,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “That will make a lasting impression on a lot of people, your fans, yourself, recruiting, all of those things.

“Every day I’ve come in, I’ve made a comment that a couple of more teams aren’t playing, but we are still playing. You want to keep the focus on your program for as long as possible.”

Getting that win tonight would allow seniors Torrian Jones and Tom Timmermans to complete their career with four 20-win seasons while wearing an Irish uniform. In those four years, winning has become more of a habit than a surprise, but Jones still appreciates each victory.

“I’m spoiled, every year I’ve been here I’ve gotten 20 wins. I’m really looking forward to getting a win tomorrow night and for my career to culminate,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to getting that 20th win, going back to New York and trying to win a championship with this team.”

A lot has been said in the past few days about the Joyce Center crowd taking notes from the fans in Fort Wayne and being more energetic. Brey joked before practice Wednesday that he is sending buses for those Fort Wayne fans to get to South Bend and even said his wife would drive a couple of vans.

Whether or not any fans make the short trip to Notre Dame, Brey feels the hometown fans are ready.

“I think our Joyce Center fans have accepted the challenge the Fort Wayne fans put down the other night,” Brey said. “I anticipate a great atmosphere. It’s the last time to see this team, and I think people have appreciated what this group has done.”