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MEN’S BASKETBALL: ‘Cross’ed out

Pat Leonard | Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Deflated by its opening-round loss in the Big East tournament and nagged by injury, Notre Dame saw its final bubble burst Tuesday night.

The Irish fell to visiting Holy Cross in the Joyce Center, 78-73, in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, bowing out two rounds earlier than they did last season in a quarterfinal defeat to Oregon.

“We haven’t had much in the tank here the last three weeks,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I think that was evident physically today with us. You’re disappointed because we just didn’t have a whole lot of energy.”

The loss came just two days after Notre Dame was passed over for an NCAA tournament bid, making it the second straight year the Irish have not played in the big dance.

Irish shooting guard Chris Quinn did not dress due to a bruised clavicle, which Brey said would have kept Quinn out the remainder of the season had Notre Dame advanced. Forward Omari Israel dressed but also did not play due a bone chip in an ankle.

Holy Cross guard Kevin Hamilton led the Crusaders with 26 points on 7-of-16 shooting, and Holy Cross took a page from Rutgers’ playbook in staving off a late Notre Dame run.

The Crusaders led by 13 points with 12:28 remaining before Colin Falls (18 points, 4-of-10 on 3-pointers) and Russell Carter (seven points) hit consecutive three-point field goals to cut the deficit to seven.

Teams traded baskets for the next six minutes, and Holy Cross led 60-55 with 5:31 to go. But Chris Thomas – who had a team-high 21 points and nine assists – hit a pull-up jumper and then found Rick Cornett for a wide-open dunk to cut the score to 60-59.

Then, the ghosts of Madison Square Garden appeared in purple jerseys.

Crusaders center Nate Lufkin canned 1-of-2 foul shots. Hamilton scored a bucket and point guard Torey Thomas converted a fast break lay-up to make the score 65-59. Notre Dame would not recover.

Holy Cross made 7-of-8 free throws – including 5-of-6 from Hamilton – to hold on to the win and advance in the NIT.

While the Irish struggled once again to make key defensive stops, they also were severely out-rebounded – especially on the offensive glass. Holy Cross grabbed 20 offensive rebounds to Notre Dame’s 11, leading to 18 second-chance points and 34 points for the Crusaders in the paint.

In comparison, Notre Dame scored just 11 points in the lane.

“I think that if everyone boxes their man out, we won’t have a problem rebounding,” forward Rick Cornett said. “I think that’s where we struggled the last few games.”

In a 66-56 win over Rutgers on March 2, Notre Dame surrendered 19 offensive rebounds and grabbed only five.

In the first half Tuesday night, Torin Francis (23 minutes, seven points) made a free throw to open the scoring, but the lead changed often throughout the half. Though the Irish seemed they would go into the half with the lead and some momentum up 32-30, Holy Cross freshman point guard Pat Doherty stripped Thomas and fed Hamilton for a buzzer-beating lay-up to tie the score at the break.

“That’s a big momentum play right there,” Brey said. “That’s a deflating play right before the half.”

The Crusaders then opened the second half with an 18-5 run.

Notes

uIn their final game in Notre Dame uniforms, seniors Chris Thomas and Jordan Cornette broke significant program records.

Thomas’ 3-point field goal with 27 seconds to go was his 302nd career shot made from behind the arc. The basket moved Thomas past former Irish sharpshooter Matt Carroll on the all-time list for most 3-point field goals made.

Cornette registered his 201st block Tuesday, as well, passing LaPhonso Ellis as the all-time leading shot-blocker in Irish men’s basketball history.