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Life on the line

Andrew Soukup | Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Torrian Jones isn’t given to broad, sweeping generalizations.So when he describes how pivotal tonight’s game against Providence is for Notre Dame’s postseason aspirations by saying, “It’s the biggest game of the season, bar none,” fans should pay attention.Jones and the rest of the Irish know the magnitude of tonight’s game against Providence, who is tied for second in the Big East and boasts an RPI of 11. If the Irish win, Notre Dame adds a fourth quality win in five games to its NCAA Tournament resume. If the Irish lose, Notre Dame is in the position of having to advance deep into the Big East Tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. “It’s do or die right now, because that’s our last opportunity to get a marquee win,” Jones said. “It’ll look real good on the resume and solidify us for the rest of the season.”Tonight’s game also has several ramifications for how the Big East will shake out for the rest of the season. Notre Dame (13-10 overall, 7-6 in the Big East) is one of seven teams who have records between 7-5 and 6-7. An Irish win tonight and wins in its last two conference games against Georgetown and St. John’s could give the team a chance at a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament.”We definitely need this game,” Chris Quinn said.Notre Dame’s recipe for beating the Friars is containing Ryan Gomes and preventing the rest of the team from doing too much damage. Since conference play started, Gomes has ranked third in the Big East in scoring (19.6) and rebounds (9.5).But Irish coach Mike Brey said while the Irish know Gomes can score, the key to winning is stopping the rest of the Friars.”We’ve done a good job where the guys who are going to get their [points] got theirs, and nobody else really hurt us,” Brey said. “But they have a number of guys who can hurt us.”Like Notre Dame, the Friars depend on the 3-pointer for most of their offense, and Providence makes about 37 percent from behind the arc compared to Notre Dame’s 3-point percentage of around 35 percent. In addition to Gomes, Donnie McGrath, Rob Sander and Sheiku Kabba all average double-digits in points for Providence.The Friars have the conference’s best defense, giving up 60.1 points a game in league play, thanks in part to a stifling zone. Brey wants his team to concentrate on pushing the tempo to score points in transition – similar to what the Irish did in a win against Syracuse a week ago.”We didn’t win Saturday [against Connecticut], but we’re playing well and our body language is good,” Brey said. “We’ve got this attitude where we’re playing loose and going for it and not being afraid to win. We have to continue to play with that frame of mind.”The fact that Notre Dame is even in a position to challenge for the NCAA Tournament is a testament to how the Irish have played over their last four games. A loss to Pittsburgh Feb. 7 left the Irish one loss away from dropping to .500 on the season. But three straight wins against Connecticut, Seton Hall and Syracuse and a narrow loss at Connecticut Saturday helped propel the Irish onto the bubble.”This is what it’s all about,” Brey said. “We’re in meaningful games, we’re in the mix, we’re on the radar screen.”You do have control of your destiny, and that’s all you can ask.”