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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Quinn proves to be a warrior despite loss

Bobby Griffin | Monday, December 5, 2005

Plenty of very good players have the ability to take over a game. They just don’t have the heart.

It’s the fire that burns inside a player after scoring six first-half points. It’s the pride and determination that forces a player to put the game on his shoulders, for better or worse. It’s the desire to take over a game.

Irish point guard Chris Quinn proved Saturday – at least for one afternoon – he simply has it.

Quinn missed a potential game-tying floater after Michigan guard Dion Harris made it a two-point game with 17 seconds left. But that’s fine. He had a good look, and he had no intention of passing it up.

Many good basketball players could become special but fall short because they don’t have this heart. It happens all the time at the pro level.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Chris Webber, a perennial all-star, disappears faster than David Blaine in the fourth quarter. Sacramento Kings forward Peja Stojakovic averaged 24.2 points per game in the 2003-04 season before scoring eight points on 3-of-12 shooting in a Game 7 against the Timberwolves.

There is a reason why Reggie Miller is a borderline Hall of Famer even though his career points per game average (18.2) is barely legal. He thrived under pressure and hit big shots in big spots.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Quinn is clearly not at this level. But against Michigan he showed he is the type of player who can elevate his play when his team needs it most.

Anybody can score in the first half when the crowd is quiet, but only a special player wants the ball when it matters.

The numbers tell the story. In the first half Quinn was 3-of-6 from the field for six points. In the second half, Quinn exploded on 6-of-12 shooting for 20 points, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. He played the entire 20 minutes and hit all four of his free throws down the stretch.

Quinn has been waiting for this moment. While former point guard Chris Thomas didn’t always live up to expectations, he always welcomed the pressure. Sometimes he forced shots and sometimes he made turnovers, but he did it knowing he had to step up more so than anyone else.

Thomas became the poster boy for the motto that teams should live and die with their best player.

Quinn watched and learned. Revisit Kyle McAlarney’s layup that tied the game at 52 with 8:17 remaining. It was the last Irish basket that was not credited to Quinn. Michigan took a 30-second timeout, and Quinn scored Notre Dame’s final 15 points – only forcing one shot in that entire span.

“Looking at his numbers, I’m not sure anybody’s presence was going to stop Quinn this afternoon,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.

And Quinn almost did Saturday what Thomas could not do his senior year, with the exception of last season’s St. John’s game – finish a big game with a bigger basket.

But Quinn’s late missed shot does not discredit his performance. Irish forward Torin Francis said after the game that Quinn hits that shot nine out of 10 times. There is no doubt he will have more chances this season in close games, and Quinn will come through.

“I think he needed a game like this, as the man, this year,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “The lights were on, and he answered the bell continuously.”

The only question that remains is where this attitude, this hustle, this determination will take Notre Dame in the long run.

Great players make good teams out of average ones. Let’s see if Quinn can do the same.

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

Contact Bobby Griffin at rgriffi3@nd.edu