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Men’s Basketball: D-II Flyers soar into Joyce

Pat Leonard | Thursday, November 3, 2005

Notre Dame plays Division II Lewis University tonight for the first time since 1967. To Irish point guard Chris Quinn, it feels like it’s been just as long since the Irish played anybody.

“We’ve been here since the middle of June playing against only each other,” Quinn said before Tuesday’s practice. “It’ll be exciting to suit up against someone else.”

The last time the two teams met, Lewis University was Lewis College. In the first of two exhibition games, Notre Dame will take the court at 7:30 p.m. in the Joyce Center with the same name but with a drastically different face from last season.

Point guard Chris Thomas has graduated, and the team has welcomed four promising freshmen to a roster filled with players who either expect or are fighting for serious playing time.

“There’s probably more moving parts at this time of year than any of my other years as far as combinations and looking at a lot of different things and not having a predetermined rotation,” Irish coach Mike Brey said Tuesday. “Thinking even further, the only guy I know I’d start Thursday would be Chris Quinn. After that, let them all fight for it.”

Brey was half-joking, because he acknowledges he will rely sometimes on guard Colin Falls’ shooting. He understands center Torin Francis is his tallest body in the post. But Brey also knows guard Russell Carter can be explosive from the perimeter or on the drive. He said forward Rick Cornett has worked hard in the offseason to increase the minutes he saw last season.

The coach repeatedly has said Notre Dame has 10 to 11 players who all could, and most likely will, factor into the rotation from November to March. And the quickest way for players to earn minutes – and for the Irish to improve – is to buckle down defensively, Brey said.

“I think my biggest concern is what’s our defensive identity,” Brey said. “Is it more man than zone? Is it both? Personnel will dictate some of that. And it could be something that’s changing throughout the year given personnel and given different styles of play – especially in our conference.

“I think offensively we know what to do with it down there. It’s just digging in and having a physical presence on the defensive end and then consistently rebounding the ball.”

Notre Dame’s defense gave up an average of 64.1 points per game last season (fifth among Big East teams), but the Irish only had the ninth-best field goal percentage defense in its conference – teams shot 42.4 percent against them.

Last season, Notre Dame had lost the services of lockdown man-to-man defender Torrian Jones to graduation, and Brey experimented with zone defense. But Thomas and Quinn both started, and coupled with Falls playing one corner, Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone was small and unimposing.

“Against [Boston College], I don’t know how we stole that night because we were really small,” Brey said of a 68-65 win on Feb. 8 in which Notre Dame played zone. “We’re bigger up front [now], so I think that can help us. And then we’ll do some three-quarter-court stuff, some delay pressure, things like that. I think it’s just a matter of different mixtures and different guys playing together.”

Brey said Carter, a junior, has been playing better defense in practice and will be an asset for match-ups against athletic guards, of which the Big East has plenty. Forward Rob Kurz is one of the more physical defenders in the post, Brey said, and Omari Israel has the length needed to shut down scorers.

And then there are the freshmen. The bench keeps going.

“I think Luke [Zeller] and Kyle [McAlarney] especially can step in and help us,” Quinn said. “Zach Hillesland has been a guy who, throughout the summer and the preseason, has surprised some people. And I think he’ll able to step in for us and play a role for us.”

Notre Dame is 4-0 all-time in its series with Lewis University. The Irish won the games in four consecutive years in games all played at the Joyce Center from 1964-67.

Lewis, nicknamed the Flyers, plays in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. It is located in Romeoville, Ill.


Forward Rick Cornett is nursing a sprained left ankle he injured last week in practice. Brey said Tuesday Cornett should be ready to go against Lewis tonight barring any setbacks.

“Everybody should be available,” Brey said. “We should have everybody healthy. Rick’s got a little bit of that sore ankle, but he’s working his way back. I sense he should go today, and we should have everybody available.”