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Men’s Basketball: Grinding it out

Matt Lozar | Thursday, February 17, 2005

Turning back the clock wasn’t just for ESPN Classic Wednesday night.

For the Irish, there were a number of history lessons in the win over Georgetown.

In the first half, Mike Brey came out with the game plan to play suffocating defense and build an early lead. He knew the Hoyas’ offense couldn’t overcome a double-digit Irish advantage.

Brey’s plan was dead-on. Holding a team without a field goal for 10 minutes, 34 seconds will make any game plan look genius. But Brey knew from earlier this season – think about the Indiana win – that he could rely on his team’s defense to win a game.

The Hoyas got hot in the second half – shooting 63 percent – but the first-half deficit was too much to overcome.

Not only was it too much to overcome, but every time the Hoyas did make a run, the Irish got that big basket to keep momentum on their side.

In those disappointing losses to Syracuse, they couldn’t do that.

Wednesday night the Irish showed they learned from those missed opportunities.

And if Notre Dame is going to do anything in big-time games when the calendar turns over in 11 days, it’s going to be defense that wins those games. Look no further in the history book to the Sweet 16 loss two years ago against Arizona for evidence.

Switch to the offensive end of the ball where the Irish made 10-of-20 3-pointers. They’ve ridden the 3-point line all year, and it looks like they’re going to have to the rest of the season.

The inside game continues to be inconsistent. Torin Francis got 11 points and nine rebounds, but he was hardly a dominant force. Georgetown didn’t provide the matchups to have two post players on the floor at the same time, hence Dennis Latimore’s three minutes of playing time.

Regardless of the performance of the post players, the strength of this team is in its guards. Throughout most of the season, this team has climbed on the backs of Chris Thomas, Chris Quinn and Colin Falls and ridden them as far as the trio could take them.

Not only do they shoot 3-pointers well, but they shoot free throws as well, another history lesson from Wednesday night.

The Irish had been struggling getting to the charity stripe, but Wednesday night it was very giving. Against the methodical Princeton-like offense that Georgetown runs, Brey wanted his offense to be patient and get good shots.

But letting the shot clock run down means not always getting an open look. That’s why driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line was important.

And the Irish took advantage – to the tune of 26-of-29.

However, the biggest lesson from Wednesday night corresponds with the team’s attitude. With the bubble bursting on Selection Sunday last year, the Irish aren’t about to get excited about one win, just like they weren’t overjoyed after defeating Connecticut or Boston College.

Yes, it was the fourth win of the season over a top-50 RPI team, but five games still remain on the regular season schedule.

Brey said there isn’t a lot of anxiety about the postseason, and he wasn’t “rah-rah” in the locker room after the game.

That’s because Notre Dame’s remember last year.

Repeating that history isn’t something the Irish want.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Matt Lozar at [email protected]