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2 hour trip for round 2

Andrew Soukup | Monday, March 22, 2004

To say that Notre Dame’s second-round NIT game tonight is being played at a neutral site stretches the definition of the word.Because just after tournament officials announced that the Notre Dame-Saint Louis game would be played in Fort Wayne (a two-hour drive from South Bend) instead of St. Louis, tickets sold out in less than 24 hours.”In the state, we’re the only team playing,” Brey said with a smile. “Nobody else is playing, and we know this state is somewhat interested in basketball the last time I checked.”How the Irish ended up in Fort Wayne shows the complex nature of scheduling NIT games. Because the Joyce Center was being used for NCAA first-round tournament action, the Irish couldn’t play in South Bend. But the arena where Saint Louis eked out a thrilling 70-69 win against Iowa wasn’t available, either.Thus, the Fort Wayne Coliseum became an option – meaning the Irish will most likely be playing in front of a Joyce Center-sized, highly-partisan crowd.”[The NIT is] flying blind a little bit because you’re not sure how you’re going to win,” Brey said, adding, “I heard a little bit about Chicago and other options, I didn’t know until after the game that Fort Wayne could be an opportunity.”The mantra for Notre Dame’s postseason tournament run has centered on the idea that the Irish have to win three NIT games to play in the NIT semifinals in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Minutes after Notre Dame beat Purdue 71-59 Wednesday, someone had scribbled on the locker room white board “Two steps”.”We’ve talked about three steps to get back to New York City,” Brey said. “This is step two.”In the Billikens (19-12), the Irish will play a tough Conference USA team that trailed Iowa by as much as 12 points midway through the second half, only to take the lead for the second time all game when Anthony Drejaj drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer.”They were out of that game,” Torrian Jones said. “I thought it was over. I stopped watching.”That’s a dangerous team. You know they don’t give up.”Brey compares Saint Louis to Purdue, in that both teams have a lot of seniors, play intense half-court defense and use a significant amount of screens to free their guards to make shots or drive to the basket. In the locker room after the win against Purdue, most of the Irish looked exhausted as a result of Purdue’s physical style of play.But the very nature of the NIT has helped the Irish. Instead of the NCAA Tournament, where teams would have to play two days after their first game, the Irish had four days of rest to heal aching bodies.”For where we are numbers-wise and some of the nicks and bruises,” Brey said, “just having a couple days in between has been playing to our advantage.”We’re thrilled we’re still playing,” he added. “There’s a lot of teams – in the NCAA and in the NIT -that aren’t playing anymore. And by Monday, there’s going to be a lot more.”