Men’s Basketball: Team fights for its life versus Friars
Pat Leonard | Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Facing elimination from the Big East tournament and an empty schedule in March, Notre Dame must win the first of its final two regular season games where it has been least successful – on the road.
The Irish (13-2, 4-10 in the Big East) are 1-6 in conference away games this season. They close their road schedule tonight in a 7:30 p.m. tiipoff with Providence at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.
“I think we’ve played well on the road. We’ve competed,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Monday, referring to his team’s resilience but poor results away from the Joyce Center. “We played well against [Providence] before, and we’ve played well in the Dunkin Donuts Center historically. No one in [our] locker room has lost in that building.”
Notre Dame has won three straight at the Dunkin Donuts Center, most recently winning 62-61 on Feb. 19, 2005.
The Irish must win tonight at Providence and Sunday at home against DePaul to earn six wins and a Big East tournament berth.
The Friars (12-13, 5-9 in the Big East) are fighting for a postseason life of their own behind leading scorer and senior guard Donnie McGrath (15.4 Big East average) and freshman guard Sharaud Curry, who led Providence with 24 points and seven assists in an 81-68 loss to Pittsburgh Saturday.
If the season ended today, the Friars would be the 12th and final team in the Big East tournament. But Notre Dame won the first meeting of the two teams, 92-77, on Jan. 14 at the Joyce Center.
Providence will secure a conference tournament berth if it beats Notre Dame tonight – regardless of the outcome of its game against Marquette March 5 – because the Friars would have at least six wins and would win tiebreakers if necessary with the loser of the Rutgers vs. St. John’s game March 5 and with DePaul.
“For both teams, the Big East tournament starts Wednesday,” Brey said. “Both teams know what’s on the line.”
Notre Dame also knew what was on the line last Saturday, but the Irish came out flat, and point guard Chris Quinn and shooting guard Colin Falls never got going on offense. Marquette capitalized and handed Notre Dame its most lopsided defeat, statistically, of its Big East season, 80-72.
Providence plays a similar style to Marquette. The Friars look to open the floor and push the ball early and often, establishing their own tempo against opponents. Brey said Monday he was concerned about Notre Dame’s transition defense, which allowed Marquette to start Saturday’s game shooting 6-of-8 from the field.
In contrast to Saturday’s performance, Quinn and Falls could not miss when the Irish played Providence last in the 92-77 victory Jan. 14. Quinn (11-of-14) and Falls (8-of-12) combined for 55 points and shot 10-of-16 from the 3-point arc.
Notre Dame averages almost exactly 10 points more than Providence in Big East games. The Irish lead the league in scoring average (79.4), while the Friars are seventh (69.5).
Brey said Monday he feels Providence is more confident heading into its Senior Night because its younger players have gained experience in Big East play. And while Notre Dame has bounced back from defeats all year to play with top conference opponents, the Irish are on a two-game losing streak.
Some critics point to Notre Dame’s 4-10 conference record and see 10 losses for a bottom-level conference team. Other critics believe Notre Dame is good but unlucky, dropping its first nine losses only by a combined 32 points.
But Irish forward Torin Francis put the losses and the season in perspective Monday as his team heads into the home stretch.
“It’s 10 losses,” said Francis, who is third in the Big East in rebounds per game (9.6). “The fact that we’re good enough to possibly have won any of those games doesn’t change the fact that we have 10 losses. But that’s in the past … After a frustrating loss, [you have to] get over it and look forward to the next game.
“We had a hard, frustrating loss against Marquette. It was at home. They swept us in the series. But we’re over it. We’re looking forward to getting a win [tonight].”
u Quinn has been named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Association (NABC) District 10 team. He was chosen from among 150 players in 15 districts for the team, joining Terence Dials (Ohio State), Marco Killingsworth (Indiana), Eric Hicks (Cincinnati) and Brian Thornton (Xavier) on the five-man team.
The selection makes Quinn eligible for national team honors that will be announced following the season.