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Men’s Basketball: Senior moments

Douglas Farmer | Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In his last home game wearing a Notre Dame uniform, senior guard Ben Hansbrough went out with a bang, and then another one, and another one, and another one, until he had tallied 30 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the arc.

Hansbrough’s seven 3s didn’t even lead the No. 8 Irish during their 93-72 victory over No. 19 Villanova Monday. That honor went to fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis as he tied a Joyce Center record with nine 3s on only 13 attempts.

“I was telling Abro, ‘Did you and me get 16 3s combined?'” Hansbrough said of the record-shooting performance. “That’s a decent enough shooting night.”

Abromaitis matched Hansbrough’s 30 points, despite only hitting one field goal within the arc.

“I don’t think [Villanova] really focused on shooters like some of the other teams do,” Abromaitis said. “Earlier in the year I would have paid a good amount of money to get a couple of those looks.”

Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4 Big East) put the Wildcats (21-9, 9-7) on their heels from the opening minutes, riding four 3s — in order, one from senior guard Carleton Scott, Abromaitis, Hansbrough and another from Abromaitis — inside the first four minutes to take a 14-4 lead.

“We came out here and hit a couple 3s in the first few minutes,” said senior forward Tyrone Nash, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. “We really came out and won the first four minutes of the first half. I think that’s really when we won the game right there.”

Scott ended the game with two from behind the arc, senior guard Scott Martin and freshman guard Eric Atkins added one apiece, and Notre Dame ended the night with a program-record 20 3s, shooting 62.5 percent from deep.

“I think that’s just part of our mental preparation, and people getting in the gym and working on their shots by themselves, and just seizing opportunity when it’s there,” Hansbrough said of the sky-high conversion rate. “We just shot incredible tonight.”

The record-setting performance carried Notre Dame to a few unique marks. The win assured the Irish will finish no lower than second in the final Big East regular season standings, with a chance at first place still standing. Resulting from that, Notre Dame will receive a double-bye in the Big East tournament, beginning the tournament in the quarterfinals. The Irish also ended their home schedule without a blemish, 19-0.

“One more thing — at the very start of the season, we talked about no matter who came in, we wanted to end the season undefeated at home,” Hansbrough said as he addressed the crowd after the game.

“For us to come out and do that, that’s what makes it so emotional for me.”

The win also tied Nash and walk-on senior Tom Kopko with last year’s senior class as the winningest class in school history.

Hansbrough, Nash and Kopko — the three seniors with no eligibility remaining — each took a turn at the mic after the game amidst loud applause.

“All I want to say is thank you to the fans,” Nash said. “It’s been a long four years, but I couldn’t have done anything without these 12 guys behind me and the coaching staff.”

As for Kopko, the loudest cheers of the night did not come during his speech, but rather when he entered the game with one minute left, and managed to score on a drive for Notre Dame’s final points. As he picked himself up off the court and the ball fell through the net, the crowd cheered louder than it did for even Hansbrough’s record-breaking 3.

“First off, I have to thank these guys for getting me in at the end there,” Kopko said. “I have to thank these 12 guys, the coaching staff for giving me this opportunity, and coach Brey, thanks a lot.”

Notre Dame ends its regular season with a match-up against No. 16 Connecticut Saturday at 2 p.m.