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ND Men’s Basketball: Quiet exit

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SPOKANE, Wash. – No. 16 Notre Dame erased a 20-point second half deficit but couldn’t finish off the comeback and fell 74-64 to No. 21 Winthrop in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, Wash.

“It’s a big win for our program, for our conference, and for the state of South Carolina,” Eagles coach Gregg Marshall said.

The win was Winthrop’s first all-time NCAA Tournament victory, and the first for the Big South conference.

After leading 32-28 at halftime, the 11th-seeded Eagles (29-4) exploded out of the locker room, making 10 out of their first 12 shots in the second half and going on a 22-6 run to take a 54-34 lead with 13:15 to go.

“They stepped up on defense,” said Irish point guard Tory Jackson, who scored nine points. “We got frustrated and it started to go downhill.”

Down by 20, Irish coach Mike Brey called a timeout.

“I told the guys, ‘CBS has left this game, let’s make them come back to it,'” Brey said.

Sixth-seeded Notre Dame stormed back. The Irish switched to a full court press – which had served them well in the first half – and held Winthrop without a field goal for more than eight minutes.

“I guess there was a leprechaun guarding the rim,” Marshall said.

Brey said the press focused his team and threw Winthrop of its rhythm.

“Once we switched to the press, we changed the atmosphere a little bit and got our energy back,” he said.

During the Eagles drought, Notre Dame went on a 22-3 run to pull within one at 57-56. With 2:20 left in the game, the Irish took a 63-62 lead on a hook shot by forward Luke Harangody.

But that was the last lead the Irish would see.

The Eagles jumped right back out in front on two of center Craig Bradshaw’s 24 points, then got a three from guard Chris Gaynor to take a four point advantage and hit their free throws in the final minute to preserve the win.

Brey said Winthrop’s experience – the Eagles featured three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup – won out in the end.

“They looked like the men and we looked like a younger group,” he said.

Bradshaw dominated inside on both ends of the floor, adding six rebounds and four assists to his team-high point total. The senior from New Zealand also held Harangody to just four points on 2-for-6 shooting.

Eagles guard Torrell Martin added a double-double, scoring 20 points and dragging down 11 rebounds.

Senior guard Colin Falls led the Irish with 14 points despite shooting 6-for-16 from the floor and just 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc.

As a team, Notre Dame made only four of its 22 three-point attempts.

“We got some pretty good looks, especially Colin, and we’ll take that most games because usually we’ll make them,” Brey said. “But they were defending us pretty well. They reacted very quickly defensively.”

The Irish also struggled at the free throw line, going just 4-for-13.

Junior forward Rob Kurz, the only one of Notre Dame’s three captains that will return next season, said once the shock of the loss wears off, the Irish will look back on this year – which included their first trip to the NCAAs since 2003 – as a success.

“Our goal this season was to get back to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “We definitely have something to build on.”

The Irish finished the season with a 24-8 record