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Offense must match defense’s solid performance

Matt Lozar | Monday, December 6, 2004

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The scoreboard read Michigan 27, Notre Dame 16.

Three minutes, 36 seconds remained in the first half.

Thus far, the Irish had six field goals. They also had four traveling violations.

Michigan had just scored on its first possession out of the TV timeout, but something had changed in this Notre Dame team.

It finally looked like the team everyone had been waiting to see through the first three-plus games of the regular season.

In the next 3:36, the Irish doubled their field goal total from six to 12, and when Chris Thomas dropped in his only field goal of the game with one second left in the half, all of a sudden the Irish and Wolverines were tied at 30.

Three minutes of impressive basketball erased 17 minutes of bad basketball.

The Irish came out of the locker room with that same attitude. Riding the suddenly rejuvenated Torin Francis, 3-pointers from Colin Falls and a couple of shots from Dennis Latimore, they built a 51-41 lead.

Then with 11:30 remaining in the game, that attitude seemed to go away.

It wasn’t an instant drop-off, but for the rest of the game, the Irish had four field goals.

For those scoring at home, combining the first 17:30 with the last 11:30 and the Irish got 10 field goals in 29 minutes of basketball. In the other 11 minutes, they had 14 field goals.

This is a team in transition. The defense throughout the entire 40 minutes, minus a few lapses here and there, was as good as it’s been under a Mike Brey-coached team in South Bend. That off-season dedication will payoff as the season progresses.

In all of that work, the Irish lost their offense.

As surprising as that sounds, the numbers don’t lie.

They average 63.25 points per game, shooting 40.1 percent from the field and connecting on 30.7 from behind the arc.

Those stats show there’s a problem.

“I think we’re a little behind where we expected to be offensively,” Irish guard Chris Quinn said. “In the preseason with the guys we have on this team, we didn’t anticipate scoring to be one of our problems. We focused a lot on the defensive end and I think it’s showing that. We concentrated a lot on defense.

“With a tough team like Michigan, you think if you hold them to 61 points, you are going to win the game.”

During that opening stretch, the Irish looked like a team that hadn’t played for eight days and was playing its first road game of the season.

Despite the abysmal offensive start, the Irish persevered and used their defense to give themselves a golden opportunity to become 4-0 and pick up a non-conference win that would have looked great on their resume come March. Last year, a young Notre Dame team would have wilted on the road, but that experience from last season allowed them to have a chance to win at Crisler Arena.

For all the things they did wrong, the Irish learned a lot about themselves Saturday.

“Just that we can come in here and play on the road and control the game. When it comes down to the wire, we have to close the door on the game,” Latimore said. “Hopefully we can do that in Indiana.”

The Irish can take what they learned in Ann Arbor to Bloomington.

That’s easier said than done.

Look up the year 1973 in the Notre Dame-Indiana series to find out why – that’s the last year the Irish have won on the road in the series.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Matt Lozar at [email protected].