Bobby Griffin | Thursday, February 9, 2006
It’s about time.
Notre Dame got a much-needed Big East victory in a 90-63 dismantling of Rutgers Wednesday. The 27-point victory was a one-point larger margin than the team’s eight Big East losses combined.
It has been that kind of season for the Irish, who moved to 11-10 (2-8 in the Big East) with the win. But Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was just happy to come away with a victory.
“[When] you’re in the business as long as I am, you see a little bit of everything,” Brey said. “This is pretty weird though – what we’ve been through. I will say that. This is pretty weird. But we’ll keep riding on this [win] and keep building.”
Irish forwards Torin Francis and Rick Cornett led Notre Dame with a strong inside presence that fueled the offense throughout the game. Francis scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Cornett added 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
“[Cornett] and [Francis], that’s just exactly what I’ve been waiting for,” Irish forward Russell Carter said. “I know they can do that day in and day out. Just to see them do it, it gets me hyped. It’s like I’m scoring the points – it gets me smiling.”
Notre Dame had struggled this season putting together a consistent 40 minutes, but Rutgers (13-10, 3-7 in the Big East) never stood a chance Wednesday. The Irish came out of the gate strong – shooting 59.3 percent in the first half (58.9 percent in the game).
Notre Dame opened with a 10-4 run in the first 3:28 that forced Rutgers coach Gary Waters to call a timeout. In that stretch alone, Francis scored seven points.
Four Irish players – guard Chris Quinn (16 points), Carter (17 points), Francis and Cornett – all scored in double figures.
“We just wanted to come out tonight and start it up,” Francis said. “They were feeding us the ball from the perimeter, they’re always confident in us, but they’re even more confident when we’re producing.”
Notre Dame continued to apply pressure on offense in the first half, capped off by a 10-2 run out of the TV timeout with 3:36 left before halftime. Four different players – Francis, Carter, guard Kyle McAlarney and guard Colin Falls – all scored in that stretch.
Quinn credited the forwards for Notre Dame’s ability to get going early and keep the intensity throughout the game.
“Torin [Francis] and Rick [Cornett] are very skilled down there,” Quinn said. “A lot of the times, teams are keying on the perimeter. … If we can get [the forwards] playing like they did tonight, that would be good for us.”
The Irish did not let up in the second half. Taking a 38-26 lead into halftime, Notre Dame outscored Rutgers 52-37 after the break – mostly because of the team’s desire to continue playing aggressively on offense.
A telling moment came midway through the second half when Carter was wide open in the corner. The Irish guard looked around as Rutgers defenders failed to come out and defend him. He set his feet, and after much deliberation – drilled the 3.
“There was a lady in the corner who was like, ‘Shoot it,’ so I listened to her,” Carter said. “I give her the assist on that one.”
The Irish did a good job on the defensive end limiting the volatile scoring of Rutgers guard Quincy Douby. Douby – who leads the Big East in scoring (23.9 points per game coming into Wednesday’s game) – scored 27 points on 9-of-25 shooting.
Notre Dame now heads into a week-long break before next Wednesday’s game against South Florida. Brey said the Irish would use the time to refocus and make a push for what he expects to be a tough finish.
“It probably helps us to shift some gears for a little bit,” Brey said. “Slow it down, and then speed it up maybe Sunday. We need to use [the break] as an advantage, and I think it will be.”
u Notre Dame used some of its bench players in the final minutes against Rutgers. Brey said it is rare when a team is able to use some of its more inexperienced players in league play.
“It was nice to get all the guys in the game,” Brey said. “You don’t expect that ever in a league game, and the way our thing has been going, we definitely didn’t expect that. You’re thinking you are going to have to defend something in the end.”
Irish forwards Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers both hit shots for the Irish – Hillesland’s a layup with 1:14 remaining and Ayers’ a 3-pointer that got Notre Dame to 90 points with two seconds remaining.
u Brey said the Irish need to improve their free throw shooting before the team plays South Florida. The Irish shot 14-of-27 from the line in the game and 4-of-11 in the first half.
“I know we can shoot free throws better than we have,” Brey said. “We have to work on that a little bit because that’s a good weapon for us. If were getting to the bonus by using those big guys … we’ve got to convert.”