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ND Men’s Basketball: Rutgers upsets Irish in first round

Pat Leonard | Tuesday, March 15, 2005

NEW YORK – Notre Dame needed one more conference win to solidify a spot in the NCAA tournament, and in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, the Irish couldn’t get it.

Torin Francis scored a season-high 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but No. 11 seed Rutgers shot 46 percent from the floor and responded at the right times as the Scarlet Knights defeated the No. 6 seed Irish 72-65 in Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.

Rutgers senior guard Ricky Shields led his team with 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting. The Scarlet Knights (10-18) also made 7-of-17 shots from 3-point range, a significant improvement from a 3-of-15 effort exactly a week before in the only previous meeting between the two teams.

In that game on March 2, Notre Dame beat Rutgers 66-56 at the Joyce Center. The win came after a ten-point loss three days earlier to UCLA. After falling at home to Pittsburgh in the final game of the regular season, the Irish (17-11) did not obtain a bye in the first round of the conference tournament and ended up paying the price.

“We fought our way back and gave ourselves a chance to win it,” Irish coach Mike Brey said following the Rutgers loss. “But we couldn’t defend at some key times when we had the lead. You have to give Rutgers credit. They made big shots at key times.”

Notre Dame led for only three brief periods throughout the entire game, the final of which came when Chris Thomas found Russell Carter for a 3-point field goal with 1:28 remaining to give the Irish a 65-64 lead.

Out of a Rutgers 30-second timeout, however, Shields converted a drive into the lane and the Scarlet Knights went on an 8-0 run to end the game.

Carter, along with Francis, was one of the few bright spots for Notre Dame. The sophomore reserve played 22 minutes in replacement of starting shooting guard Chris Quinn and scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Quinn left the game in the first half with a bruised clavicle after colliding with Rutgers forward Marquis Webb.

With Quinn out of the ballgame and Rutgers’ defense pressing, Notre Dame fell out of a balanced attack and could not defend or score with its guards.

“I think it makes him probably do a little too much, but he had to try and do that with Quinn out of there,” Brey said. “You’re able to isolate on two guys on the perimeter rather than three. They defended better than a week ago on the perimeter.”

Rutgers coaches and players accomplished exactly what they had planned to do.

“[Our players] followed the game plan,” Rutgers coach Gary Waters said. “The game plan was to defend and to not let them get a lot of open looks from the outside. The last time we played them, they scored 42 points from the outside. We made a commitment this game to shut that down.”

Chris Thomas led Notre Dame’s guards with 17 points but did so on 6-of-17 shooting. Colin Falls shot 1-for-10 from the field and made 1-of-8 from the 3-point line. Quinn took only one shot and missed before leaving the game due to injury.

In all, the Irish guards shot 7-for-28 from the field for 20 total points. Rutgers guards scored 38 points.