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Men’s Basketball: Tough losses doom Irish

Bobby Griffin | Friday, May 19, 2006

Following Notre Dame’s Feb. 4 heartbreaking 89-86 overtime loss at Louisville after Cardinals guard Taquan Dean buried a 25-footer, the Irish dropped to 1-8 in the Big East.

The defeat was devastating. With the strength of the Big East and just seven games remaining on the conference schedule, the team’s postseason prospects looked bleak. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey admitted later he would have been surprised if the Irish would be a position to make the Big East tournament one month later given the team’s league record.

“If you would have told me [after the loss to Louisville] that we’d put ourselves in a position to play on senior day to get to New York, I would have thrown a parade,” Brey said following Notre Dame’s March 4 win over DePaul.

But Notre Dame found the strength to finish 6-10 in the Big East (16-14 overall), en route to the Big East tournament – the same event Brey stressed as the team’s major goal at the beginning of the season.

The No. 12-seeded Irish ended up losing their Big East game 67-63 to No. 5-seeded Georgetown and would later drop its second round NIT game to Michigan 87-84, after defeating Vanderbilt in its first round contest.

It also failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season after advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2003. But considering where the team was in early February, the resiliency it showed in putting together a strong finish (5-2 in its last seven games) and impressive individual season performances – the year was not a complete failure.

“We didn’t hang a banner or play in the NCAA Tournament, but I truly feel this group was representative of this university,” Brey said April 12 during the team’s post-season banquet.

In order to reach the Big East tournament, Notre Dame beat Rutgers, South Florida and Seton Hall, before dropping consecutive games to Connecticut and Marquette. The Irish responded with wins over Providence and DePaul.

Irish guard Chris Quinn was a huge reason for the team’s turnaround. The senior point guard finished the season with 17.7 points per game (fifth in the Big East), 6.45 assists per game (first in the Big East) and 42-percent shooting from 3-point range (second in the Big East).

Quinn’s statistics and overall leadership were enough to make him a first team All Big East selection and CBS Sports line named Quinn a third team All-American. The Associated Press also named Quinn an All-American honorable mention.

“A lot of teams might have faded away,” Quinn said in a March 6 press conference after being selected for the All Big East team. “Over the season, there have been tough times when we’ve really been down as a group, but we’ve had to battle back and get ready for the next game.”

Some of the more memorable moments of the season came from Quinn as well. He scored 37 points in Notre Dame’s 100-97 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, nailing 3-pointers down the stretch to force an overtime in a game where the Irish trailed by nine with under a minute.

Notre Dame forward Russell Carter also emerged as a legitimate scoring threat during the 2005-06 season, using his explosiveness as a change of pace in Notre Dame’s predominantly 3-point shooting offense.

Carter averaged 11.5 points in 28.7 minutes per game. He led the team in scoring in the team’s last three regular season games against Marquette (20 points), Providence (21) and DePaul (22) – propelling the Irish offense to their postseason berth.

Notre Dame also got strong production from freshman point guard Kyle McAlarney, who will likely assume point guard responsibilities next season following Quinn’s graduation. McAlarney averaged a Notre Dame-freshman high 6.6 points in 22.4 minutes per game.