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Notre Dame downs Rutgers at Joyce Center

Pat Leonard | Thursday, March 3, 2005

Notre Dame is one win away from earning a bye in the Big East Tournament.Needing wins in its final two conference games to secure the No. 5 seed, the Irish took care of half the battle by beating Rutgers (9-17, 2-13 Big East), 66-56, at the Joyce Center Wednesday night.Notre Dame (17-9, 9-6) had lost its previous two contests to UCLA and Connecticut, games in which the Irish defense played subpar or did not show up at all.On Wednesday, the Irish shot 53.3 percent from the field and held Rutgers to 29.5 percent from the floor.”We knew that we were going to have an edge about us because of how we practiced this whole week,” point guard Chris Thomas said.When Notre Dame players showed up for practice Monday afternoon, they were not allowed in the locker room. But Thomas said the motivational tactics of coach Mike Brey were not negative.”We haven’t been on punishment,” he said. “His theme was we have to get back to playing like how people respect us. We really don’t get any respect.”Thomas scored 10 points and dished a respectable 12 assists while committing only one turnover, while Colin Falls scored a team-high 18 points and Chris Quinn added 14.Quinn limped off the court towards the middle of the second half and did not return. Coach Mike Brey said Quinn’s status for Saturday as of now is questionable.Thomas, meanwhile, did not force much on offense and ignited scoring in the second half.”I was pretty much being a decoy on offense the whole game and just waiting to pick my spots,” Thomas said.With under 11 minutes remaining, the Irish were up 49-41, but the Scarlet Knights rattled off three straight buckets to cut the lead to two. When Rick Cornett dunked but then Rutgers Quincy Douby (19 points) canned two free throws out of a timeout, Thomas answered with two pull-up jumpers to hold the Notre Dame lead.”I think I forced a couple threes early just trying to get going and coach told me to let the game come to me, and I had some open looks there in the second half,” Thomas said.A Thomas bucket with 5:51 left put the Irish up 55-49. After a few Rutgers misses and some Irish free throws, Notre Dame gained its largest lead of 12 (66-54) before earning the 10-point victory.”Those teams at the bottom of our league don’t have a lot of wins,” Brey said. “But I don’t think of them as teams at the bottom of our league.”Brey said he did underestimate Rutgers because he knows how the Irish battled against other “bottom” teams in three one-point conference wins.On Jan. 5, the Irish defeated Seton Hall on a Falls 3-pointer. On Jan. 15, they beat St. John’s, 67-66. And on Feb. 19, the Irish edged Providence, 62-61.Notre Dame led 30-29 at the half, despite shooting 52.4 percent to Rutgers’ 27.6 percent from the field.The Scarlet Knights scored the first basket of the game on a Marquis Webb 3-pointer. Douby scored 13 points in the first half, including two free throws to make the score 26-25 just before the 3:54 television timeout.Scarlet Knights’ center Jimmie Inglis canned two free throws to make the score 27-26 Rutgers, but Torin Francis followed with a bucket to give the Irish a 28-27 lead in the fourth lead change of the half.Thomas scored his first points of the game on two foul shots with 57.5 seconds remaining, and Notre Dame went into halftime with the lead.