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Team runs out of steam in NIT

Matt Lozar | Wednesday, March 16, 2005

As the NCAA tournament started, a disappointing Notre Dame basketball season came to an end Tuesday night.

Appearing on ESPN2 while the play-in game aired on ESPN, the Irish simply got beat by an inspired Holy Cross team.

A Holy Cross team jumping at the opportunity to knock off the Irish even after the Crusaders saw their 16-game winning streak come to an end on their home court in the Patriot League title game Friday.

A Holy Cross team grabbing 20 offensive rebounds, forcing 19 Notre Dame turnovers and scoring 34 points in the paint.

A Holy Cross team meeting a Notre Dame team that needed to have its season come to an end.

Relegated to a second consecutive NIT appearance, an underachieving Irish squad had nothing left in the tank physically to get back to Madison Square Garden – the NIT’s saving grace.

“I don’t know if we could have got to New York, quite frankly,” Mike Brey said. “Let’s be honest with where we are depth wise and physically. It would have been nice to stay alive for another week.

“I’m just being very realistic about our basketball team.”

Having Chris Quinn on the bench in a white button-down shirt and black pants instead of in the backcourt alongside Chris Thomas hurt this team a lot. Brey’s right – the Irish simply don’t have the depth to replace what Quinn brings to this team.

But it wasn’t just physically where the Irish couldn’t keep pace with the Patriot League runner-up in the first round of the NIT.

Most importantly, it was mentally.

When reaching the preseason goals of a Final Four run and a 30-win season became less realistic each time the Irish stepped on the court, expectations changed to simply earning an NCAA tournament bid.

But then the late-season collapse even took that goal away, with a collapse capped off by a loss to Rutgers that effectively ended Notre Dame’s season.

And the criticism about a disappointing season peaked.

“We always held ourselves to high expectations, but all the negativity and criticism put a hamper on our team,” Thomas said.

Not meeting those high expectations became physically apparent by the sparse Joyce Center crowd of 2,518 for Tuesday night’s game.

That sent a strong message – one received by the Irish.

“When people don’t show up, that takes a lot out of you,” Thomas said.

That wasn’t any more evident than after the game in the Notre Dame locker room.

Usually the immediate voices of this Irish team, even after disappointing losses, Thomas and Jordan Cornette just sat on the stools in front of their lockers with towels pressed against their faces.

Towels hiding the tears streaming down their cheeks.

Thomas eventually removed the towel from his face and fought through tears at the start of his interview before eventually settling in.

Cornette didn’t move.

Those two didn’t want to have their careers in an Irish uniform end this way. Removing the towels meant facing the realism there were no more chances left.

No more chances to practice.

No more chances to atone for the mistakes made in previous games.

No more chances to make a mark on the Notre Dame program.

When practice started in October, no one would have said this was the way Notre Dame’s season – one of the most anticipated in years – would end.

But it was a good thing it did.