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3-pointers carry Irish in 97-88 win

Matt Lozar | Monday, November 17, 2003

The Irish got a mid-season test in the middle of November.In their second and last exhibition game, Notre Dame pulled out a 97-88 overtime win over a hot-shooting Illinois All-Stars team at the Joyce Center Friday night.Guard Chris Thomas led all scorers with 26 points, including 6-of-14 shooting on 3-pointers. As a team, the Irish shot 14-of-28 from behind the arc.All of those long-range shots were necessary as the Illinois All-Starts were even hotter on their 3-pointers, shooting 15-of-27.”I thought we challenged a lot of those shots and they were really deep shots, not great shots,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “And you are saying, ‘Are they ever gonna miss?’ They really didn’t and thank God we didn’t either.”The Illinois All-Stars featured a number of older players, highlighted by Notre Dame great LaPhonso Ellis. The former NBA player had 18 points and nine rebounds but really put on a show with a total all-around effort highlighted by a number of perfect passes. With both teams scorching from 3-point land, the game was at a very high pace during the first half. The Irish made nine 3-pointers while the Illinois All-Stars hit eight.But for the Irish, their leading long distance shooter in the first half was a very unlikely source – forward Jordan Cornette. The junior, after sitting out the team’s exhibition opener against Hoop Group because of a knee injury, made four of his five first half 3-point attempts, including scoring nine straight Notre Dame points at one point in the contest. He finished the first half with 18 points. “I was feeling it. The rim looked two times the size than it usually is to be honest,” Cornette said. “I was just feeling confident about my shot. I know what I’m capable of and I was able to show it tonight.”While Cornette assumed a new role in the first half, it was Torrian Jones’ turn in the second half. Jones became more active on the offensive end, drove to the hole aggressively and got to the rim easily on several drives. “I felt the flow of the game. I thought I needed to make some plays. I was patient and stuff came to me,” Jones said. “I knew it was a mismatch. The guy that was guarding me is a great player, but he wasn’t a guy that knew how to move his feet. I exploited that mismatch and I was able to get to the basket and make some tough shots.”The Irish needed Jones the most down the stretch. He was pushed underneath the basket with 1.4 seconds remaining in the second half and stepped to the free throw line with the Irish down 85-83.The first one hit the front of the rim and bounced in. After a time-out by the Illinois All-Stars, the second one was a perfect swish and the game went into overtime.In the extra session, Thomas put the Illinois All-Stars away, fittingly hitting two 3-point baskets to extend an 87-85 Notre Dame lead to a 95-88 advantage during a quick 8-2 Irish run.All those pressure-packed situations, getting contributions from players other than the usual scorers, making free throws to keep the game going and making big shots down the stretch, should only the help the Irish later this year.”For us to have to make decisions in an overtime game, make free throws and then come into overtime and make plays, I just hope you grow up and get a little more confident before you start playing, especially on your home floor,” Brey said.Forward Torin Francis finished with 14 points and 22 rebounds. Guard Chris Quinn was 4-of-4 on 3-pointers and had 19 points. Thomas also had nine assists.The difference in the game came at the free throw line as the Irish hit 11-of-15 while the Illinois All-Stars were 5-of-20, including 0-for-7 in the second half. Friday night’s biggest disappointment was Notre Dame’s play on defense. Coming into the game, Brey and the players talked about improving the effort on team defense.That improvement didn’t seem to occur, as the Illinois All-Stars came out and made a ton of shots early in the game, making Friday night the second straight night where Notre Dame’s opponent came out and scored easily early in the game.That defensive effort is something the Irish feel they need to stop – right now.”Northern Illinois will blow us out if we play defense like this, if we try to outshoot them. We aren’t going to have a shooting night like this every night,” Thomas said. “We can’t always rely on offense like we did tonight.”