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Prister: Senior night says ‘We are ND’ (Mar. 1)

Eric Prister | Tuesday, March 1, 2011

As the clock wound down on Notre Dame’s 21-point victory over Villanova Monday night to seal a perfect record at the Purcell Pavilion and clinch a double-bye in the Big East tournament, the loudest cheer of the night rang through the arena.

It wasn’t the cheer that rose up when the Irish broke Notre Dame’s single-game 3-point record. It wasn’t the cheer as Ben Hansbrough left the court for the last time in his Notre Dame career. It wasn’t even the cheer the echoed through the building as senior walk-on Tom Kopko drove the lane and scored in the final minute.

As time expired, only one phrase could be heard, yelled by students, fans and Brian Kelly alike — “We are ND. We are ND.”

In the last game of the season, the loudest game of the season, the loudest cheer explains why this Notre Dame team is the best we’ve seen in years.

It was a night of 3-pointers and individual performances. Fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis tied the Joyce Center record for individual 3s in a game. He and Hansbrough each scored 30 for only the second time in school history. Hansbrough and senior forward Tyrone Nash each recorded double-doubles. But it was the team performance that once again shows the potential of this Irish squad.

All but six of Notre Dame’s 29 made shots came off assists. Four players scored in double-digits. Every single player on the Irish bench got playing time.

I’ve said it many times throughout the season — this Notre Dame team is special because there isn’t just one star. True, Hansbrough has a chance to be the Big East Player of the Year, and Notre Dame thrives off of his energy and ability. But, as Villanova learned the hard way tonight, if you leave Abromaitis open, he will destroy you — and not just with 3s.

This team is versatile, and that’s why they clinched a top-two finish in the Big East, clearly the best conference in the country. That’s why the Irish still have a shot to finish first in the Big East with a win over Connecticut and a Pittsburgh loss Saturday. That’s why a win in the Big East tournament puts the Irish in a good position to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. And that’s why, dare I say, if the Irish can pull out three straight victories in New York next week, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed. Who could possibly have seen that coming?

The energy in the Purcell Pavilion was unlike any this school has seen away from the football field in years. From the tip-off, every person inside knew who was going to win the game. The students knew. Mike Brey knew. Hansbrough knew. Deep down, even Villanova knew. Let me repeat: A Notre Dame basketball team not only beat, but dominated and knew it was going to dominate a top-20 Big East team, after just a day of rest when four of the Irish starters played 29 or more minutes against Seton Hall. As a result, the Irish go undefeated at home for the third time in five years. Now that’s a home-court advantage.

When Hansbrough took the microphone to address the crowd after the game, he said that from the season’s outset, one of the team’s goals was to be perfect at the Purcell Pavilion.

“We wanted to go undefeated at home. We,” he said, with an emphasis on “we” as he pointed around the building.

We are ND, and this time, we’re for real.

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

Contact Eric Prister at eprister@nd.edu