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Brey issues challenge, team responds with win

Matt Lozar | Monday, January 31, 2005

It wasn’t when the little leprechaun sitting on the rim prevented Marcus Williams’ layup from tying the game that told Mike Brey the Irish would come out victorious Sunday afternoon.

It was when the where-has-that-been-all-season dunk from the suddenly dominant Torin Francis a couple minutes earlier that told Brey the Irish would get the much-needed win.

“It’s almost like we were thinking we’re going to get this one today,” Brey said. “You’re in this business long enough and the games and there’s a flow to them. You’re thinking that’s a heck of an exclamation point.”

That’s the impact play the Irish have been waiting to get in the magnitude of a game they have been waiting to win all season.

Out of nowhere

After two disappointing road losses and the missed opportunity against Syracuse three weeks prior to Sunday, no one expected this type of performance out of the Irish.

So where did it come from?

It came from a challenge by their coach.

One heck of a challenge.

“I challenged their manhood [on] Wednesday night after the game at Villanova and the last two days, and I’m going to challenge it tomorrow.” Brey deadpanned after the game Sunday. “It’s funny, we all know when that’s challenged, especially us males, we react.

“I thought they reacted well.”

That challenge from Brey triggered something in his players.

It triggered something in Dennis Latimore to be the type of player many expected to see after he transferred from Arizona.

It triggered something in Chris Quinn to drive to the basket and be, as Brey said, a two guard in the Big East that people should have trouble guarding.

It triggered desperation in the minds of the players in the locker room.

“Our backs were against the wall,” Irish co-captain Jordan Cornette said. “I don’t know if we realized that more now. I wish we had realized that the whole time, but it’s go time and everybody realizes that.

“We weren’t coming out of here today with a loss.”

Until being faced with their postseason options hanging in the balance, the Irish didn’t play with any sense of urgency.

The urgency resulted in their best win of the season.

Think back to after the Irish made a good offensive play Sunday, backpedaling down court, Chris Thomas would call out defenses and not be celebrating with the rest of the crowd. Recall the noise of the scorer’s table echoing throughout the Joyce Center after Brey kicked it midway through the second half when the Irish fell behind 58-52.

The Irish wanted and needed this game.

They wanted it more than Connecticut. Jim Calhoun acknowledged after the game that the Irish made more plays down the stretch necessary to win such a big-time game.

For the first time all season, they refused to lose.

And they didn’t.

What’s it all mean?

On paper, it’s a win – a very good win – for the NCAA tournament resume. It gets the Irish to 5-3 at the halfway portion of the Big East schedule. In this conference, that’s no small feat.

In the locker room, it does even more.

It tells the backcourt making double-digit 3-pointers isn’t mandatory to win, even against one of the better frontcourts in the country.

It gives them confidence going into the next three games against three more ranked teams.

Now Brey’s job is to keep the confidence from going too high. With this veteran team, that shouldn’t be hard.

Yes, the locker room was upbeat after the game, but Brey’s postgame press conference was low-key.

That’s because Brey knows it’s only one game. And he knows what’s coming up in the next three games.

In the Big East, that’s the only way to take it. Every game is extremely valuable, and getting too high or too low after each one will do more harm than good by March.

That’s why Brey’s mood didn’t hit those extremes during the past three games.

“I wasn’t suicidal after Georgetown and Villanova,” Brey said. “I’m going to go home, have dinner and be thankful we’re 5-3.”

Before going home, Brey might want to stop at the Grotto on the way.

And light a candle for that little leprechaun.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Matt Lozar at mlozar@nd.edu