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Pesky Pumas keep Irish on toes

Pat Leonard | Friday, November 5, 2004

Chris Thomas scored 22 points and coaches experimented with lineup combinations as Notre Dame beat Division-II St. Joseph’s College (Ind.), 80-67, in a preseason Thursday night game at the Joyce Center.

Coach Mike Brey used ten players and installed a version of the two-three zone in the second half to counter an up-tempo style of play from the out-sized Pumas.

St. Joe’s kept the game close for the majority of the first half and gave Notre Dame problems.

But the Irish made close to 48 percent of their three-point attempts and made enough sound plays to preserve the win.

“I thought we were very unselfish, and I like that offensively,” Brey said. “We are unselfish, and we’re looking for each other.”

Thomas led Notre Dame in scoring, making 6-of-13 shots from the field and 4-of-7 three point attempts. Thomas, Chris Quinn (16 points, 5-for-7 three pointers) and the Notre Dame guards fed off the inside-out game established by the post presences of Torin Francis and Dennis Latimore.

“Torin and Dennis are going to command so much attention that the guards have to keep throwing it in there and work off of them,” Quinn said.

St. Joe’s fast break style is uncommon compared to the Big East opponents Notre Dame will face this season. The Irish struggled with the Pumas’ pesky style at time, but Notre Dame’s size overcame any inconvenience St. Joe’s caused.

“Our guys were in there talking about how physically strong they were and how tired [our guys] were from just banging on them,” St. Joe’s coach Linc Darner said.

The Irish came out of the gate sharp on offense. At the first timeout with 15:23 remaining in the first half, Thomas had three points and three assists, with Francis (12 points, nine rebounds) struggling but still scoring seven early points. Notre Dame then scored three points in the next five minutes.

Brey rotated players, and with just under seven minutes to go, guard Russell Carter entered the game to ignite a stagnant offense.

The Irish, up 33-31 at Carter’s entrance, scored seven unanswered points and went on to take a 48-36 halftime lead. Carter finished the game with four points and an assist in eight minutes, one of many players to contribute.

“Through practice, we knew that we were going to have a lot of different options and a lot of different looks,” Jordan Cornette said.

Cornette started and finished the game with eight points, five rebounds and two blocks.

Latimore – another starter along with Thomas, Quinn and Francis – scored six points and had four rebounds.

Notre Dame had its biggest lead coming out of a second half timeout with 11:45 remaining. Freshman Rob Kurz made two foul shots to send the Irish up 18 points, 66-48. But St. Joe’s played quick defense and pushed the ball on offense to keep it a game.

Brey then went to a two-three type zone on defense to use Notre Dame’s size to its advantage.

“If you have Cornette or [Omari] Israel as your third perimeter guy, that is a really big, long back line,” Brey said. “Of course, we have to play against that [zone] in our league with Syracuse, and it covers a lot of ground.”

In defeat, the Pumas managed to outrebound the Irish, 44-41.