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Men’s Basketball: Irish survive late Gonzaga run

Douglas Farmer | Saturday, December 11, 2010

No. 23 Notre Dame let a 13-point lead with four minutes to play dwindle to a one-possession ballgame in the closing minute before holding on for an 83-79 victory over Gonzaga Saturday night at Purcell Pavilion.

The Zags pulled within five at the one-minute mark on the strength of a three-pointer from senior guard Steven Gray. Irish freshman guard Eric Atkins proceeded to hit only three of six free throws in the final minute, leaving the door open for Gonzaga to pull even closer, to within two points with 16 seconds left.

“I’m going to shoot 1,000 free throws tomorrow,” Atkins said after going 5-of-10 from the charity stripe on the night. “I’m not going to miss that many free throws again. I won’t do that again; I can promise that.”

Gonzaga scored 12 points in the final 64 seconds, and Notre Dame could only breathe a sigh of relief when Irish senior guard Ben Hansbrough sank all four of his free throw attempts in the last 12 seconds, providing the final cushion.

The Irish took a 43-37 lead into halftime, largely on the strength of senior forward Carleton Scott’s 19 first-half points. Scott finished the night with a career-high 23 points – he outdid his previous career high of 17 in the first-half alone.

“I was feeling it and the jumper felt good, so I let it fly,” Scott said. “As long as I’m getting good looks, I’m going to take them.”

Gonzaga tied the score at 50 on the strength of an 11-4 run in the opening minutes of the second half. Once tied, fourth-year guard Tim Abromaitis poured in eight straight points in less than two minutes and gave Notre Dame the lead it would not relinquish.

“They went into that zone, and kind of threw us off for a few possessions,” Abromaitis said. “But we were moving and got some looks, extended [the lead] out to a 13- or 14-point lead, and took it from there.”

After the Zags knotted the score, Abromaitis drained three-pointers from the left wing on two consecutive possessions. Suddenly playing with a six-point lead, Atkins stole the ball from the Zags, and senior forward Tyrone Nash soon found Abromaitis open behind Gonzaga’s defense for a two-handed dunk.

“They kind of left me for a couple possessions,” Abromaitis said. “I was just lucky enough to find myself open, and some great passes from the guys got me those looks.”

Abromaitis finished the night with 21 points and eight rebounds, including hitting four of his six three-point attempts.

Gonzaga relied heavily on the play of junior center Robert Sacre, who at 7-foot tall posed a match-up problem for the Irish. No Notre Dame player taller than 6 feet 9 inches saw playing time, and Sacre utilized his height advantage to go 8-for-13 from the field, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds before fouling out. Four Gonzaga starters fouled out by the end of the game, allowing Notre Dame to thrive inside the paint despite the size discrepancy.

“We were able to attack their big guys a little bit,” Abromaitis said. “They had to switch them in and out. That is definitely to our advantage … It was everybody fighting against their bigs, and that helped us in the end.

Gonzaga sophomore forward Elias Harris finished with 19 points for the Zags, and Gray added 18.

Notre Dame will next play Stony Brook Dec. 19 at Purcell Pavilion.