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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Maui already a succes for Irish

Chris Hine | Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maui — Phew.

For a moment at the Lahaina Civic Center, Notre Dame’s collective heart skipped a beat as Texas guard A.J. Abrams heaved a last-second shot from just beyond half-court.

To quote Maxwell Smart, Abrams “missed it by that much.” And Notre Dame’s bench erupted in celebration.

But whether Abrams missed it by that much or a mile, Notre Dame’s 81-80 win over the Longhorns still stands as win, and most importantly, it’ll still stand as a win in March.

A win over a team like Texas is NCAA Tournament résumé fodder for the NCAA Tournament committee. Barring an upset over North Carolina Wednesday night, this win will be put on top of Notre Dame’s résumé throughout the next few months. And in a league as tough as the Big East is this season, a win over a quality non-conference opponent like Texas, who should win the Big 12 this year, can make the heartache of losing to a team like Connecticut and Louisville a little easier to take. The players immediately understood the impact this win has.

“The win was very important,” senior forward Ryan Ayers said. “It helps not only with résumé stuff come February and March, but it helps with our confidence knowing that we can go against good teams anywhere, neutral sites, in tournaments.”

Senior guard Kyle McAlarney added: “Texas is going to have a great year. That’s a heck of a team. We’re not too concerned with what’s going to happen with that down the line, but it definitely is a huge win for us, so we’ll take them any way we can get them.”

Of course, there were problems for the Irish in the game. From the free-throw line, the Irish were an uncharacteristic 10-for-21, this from a team that shot 74 percent last season. Junior guard Tory Jackson went 2-for-4, junior forward Luke Harangody went 4-for-6 down the stretch, senior forward Zach Hillesland threw up two ugly ones with 17 seconds left.

“I still think we’re going to be great from the [free-throw] line when it’s all said and done,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “But we haven’t been yet this year.”

So far, the Irish have shot just under 60 percent through four games.

Notre Dame did only end up with six turnovers for the game, but they struggled against Texas’ full-court pressure late in the game. Texas was able to get a turnover and nearly had a few others in its comeback late in the game.

But these problems are easily corrected and these Notre Dame players have shown the ability to hit clutch free throws in the past. The performance against Texas was likely an aberration.

Some may say this team is like the Irish football team — they couldn’t put an opponent away in the final minutes and made the game closer that it had to be, but, lest fans forget, the football team hasn’t beaten a top 10 team in a while.

All quibbles aside, Notre Dame and its fans should rightly celebrate this win.

Wednesday, the Irish will face a North Carolina team that’s No. 1 in the country and by all reasonable estimates, should win the national title this year.

Notre Dame has nothing to lose. Nobody is expecting the Irish to come away with the Maui Invitational title. They came down here and did what they had to do – crush a depleted Indiana squad and pick up a quality win against another top 10 opponent.

A win over the Tar Heels would be great for Notre Dame, and provide Ben Hansbrough and Luke Zeller with bragging rights over their brothers, but as of Tuesday night, Notre Dame’s trip to Maui was already a success.