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Irish avance to NIT quarters with win over St. Louis

Scott Brodfuehrer | Tuesday, March 23, 2004

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Listening to the roar of the crowd as the Irish came on the court, no one could tell that the team wasn’t at the Joyce Center. From the band to the PA announcer to even corny timeout promotions, this was essentially a home game.Notre Dame fed on this “home” energy throughout the game, recovering from a sluggish first half where they trailed Saint Louis by a point to beat them by 11, with a final score of 77-66.”That’s one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been in,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “To come out and look up and you’ve got green shirts all the way to the ceiling. There’s no question that motivated our kids and our kids were excited to play.”Chris Thomas led the Irish to victory, picking up a career-high 39 points and playing a key role in the turning point in the game. With 12 minutes remaining in the second half, Jordan Cornette and Thomas hit back-to-back 3-point goals, putting the Irish up 46-41. Saint Louis’ Anthony Drejaj then missed two free throw shots after being fouled by Chris Quinn and the Billikens would never recover the lead.The Irish defense was strong throughout the contest, especially against 3-pointers by only allowing one during the entire game. Against Iowa in the first round of the NIT, Saint Louis shot seven 3-pointers, which helped the Billikens recover from an 18-point first half deficit.”We defended the 3-point line, they didn’t shred us from there. We could absorb the twos because … [Thomas] was scoring enough to absorb the twos,” Brey said.The difference between the first and second half for the Irish was staggering. In the first half, Notre Dame couldn’t get a shot to fall, making 11-of-27 field goals and only 2-of-10 3-point goals. But in the second half, the Irish made 14 of their 22 field goals and 6-of-11 3-point goals. A technical foul called against forward Chris Sloan following a controversial traveling call shook the Billikens up even more during a media timeout with 7:45 remaining in the half. Thomas made both resulting free throws, followed by an unanswered 3-point goal and two 2-point goals to open a 17-point lead for the Irish.”We don’t really know what happened with the technical,” Thomas said. “That gave us the opportunity for us to take control of the game, That fueled us to take control and keep the lead.” Josh Fisher, with 21 points, and Reggie Bryant, with 19 points, led Saint Louis in scoring.Saint Louis threatened to open a large lead at the end of the first half, with Fisher shooting three unanswered baskets in between a foul shot by Bryant, and the Irish trailed 19-14. But the Irish put up their own run, scoring eight unanswered points to put them back on top.”There were a couple points in the game where our backs were against the wall and we took bad shots and made bad turnovers,” Thomas said. “But for the most part we played well and with a lot of maturity.” Saint Louis also played tight defense for most of the game, resulting in a very physical, but satisfying game for Irish players.”I love that, bumping heads, trash talking, up in each other’s faces, how emotional. It was a great game. It had a tournament atmosphere and I was happy with it,” Cornette said.Notre Dame will face the winner of the Oregon – George Mason game in the Joyce Center Thursday night. Season ticket holders and students may purchase tickets today, with sales being opened to the general public on Wednesday.And while some have the attitude that the NIT is a great way to prepare for next year, Brey has his sights set on higher goals.”We’re excited to play … this year’s team is still playing well and you play for a championship in this tournament,” Brey said. “We talked about three steps back to New York City – we’re one step away.”