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No doubting Thomas

Matt Lozar | Tuesday, February 10, 2004

One year later, it happened again.

Exactly 365 days after No. 4 Pittsburgh fell 66-64 and the students rushed the Joyce Center court, Notre Dame (11-9, 5-5 in the Big East) defeated No. 5 Connecticut 80-74 last night and its players was mobbed by the student body once again.

The win was Notre Dame’s first on national television and against a ranked opponent this season. Connecticut (19-4, 7-2) lost for the first time in five games and for the first time this year after leading at halftime.

“Not many people gave us a chance, but the 13 guys in this locker room believe we can play with anybody,” Notre Dame guard Chris Quinn said.

With Notre Dame forward Torin Francis only able to play seven first-half minutes due to back spasms, Notre Dame guard Chris Thomas put the Irish on his back and scored 31 points, highlighted by 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.

To cap the night off for Thomas, he broke David Rivers’ career assist record by feeding Chris Quinn on a jumper with 9:37 remaining in the first half.

“If it was going to happen, it just so happened tonight was the night,” Thomas said. “It’s a special night not only for myself, but for the team, for the program, for the guys in here who have worked so hard.”

Knowing the Huskies would try to rush the tempo of the game, the Irish came in with a game plan to slow down the contest and not let the Huskies score in transition. The Irish were successful, as each team only scored five transition points.

“I think what we did a good job is that they didn’t hurt us in transition,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “When they get running, and they ran on us last year early, we never get in any rhythm running. We did a very good job getting back.”

Besides Thomas, the Irish offense was led by Quinn’s 17 points and Torrian Jones, who had 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

The big moment on the night came after Connecticut tied the game at 69 with 3:06 remaining.

A 3-pointer from Thomas sent the Irish on a 9-0 run and put the finishing touches on Notre Dame’s best game of the season.

“That’s where I thought we took a big step,” Brey said. “I kept talking to them in the huddle and told them I didn’t want to see any weak body language. We just had to keep fighting.”

On a night playing against one of the top teams in the country, the Irish didn’t play a perfect basketball game to pull the upset. Connecticut shot better from the field, got more rebounds and dominated inside the paint.

But the Irish played an intense and focused 40 minutes for the first time this season and earned their first big win on the season.

“We did what we needed to do to win,” Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette said. “That’s what great teams do.”