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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Role players, not stars, lead team’s magic run

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, February 10, 2011

They did it again.

I am still in shock going all the way back to the Old Spice Tournament.

At one point it looked as though the home streak was over, after Louisville went on an 8-0 run early in the second half to make it 55-50.

Two minutes later the score was 59-55 with the Irish looking as though not even a timeout could stop them from scoring points.

That is definitely not the Notre Dame team I am accustomed to.

But, then again, this isn’t the average Notre Dame team.

The age of Harangody is over. This Irish have a team full of stars, not just one. After years of relying on one star player and the 3-ball, Mike Brey has found a true team with interchangeable parts and strong defense.

Notre Dame is a team full of role players who are ready to do their jobs every night. Just at the time when the Irish looked to fall back into its mold with Hansbrough as the superstar, we saw the real Notre Dame emerge.

Hansbrough is the leader, plain and simple. He gets the ball with less than two minutes to go. He wills the ball into the hoop. He makes others around him better. That is his role. He singlehandedly led the Irish on the aforementioned run that turned the game around for the Notre Dame, scoring five points to tie the game in a matter of seconds. But then he picked up the ominous fourth foul, and the Irish were doomed once


But the difference between the teams of Irish past and this one goes back to a lesson learned a year ago, right around this time, when do-it-all forward Luke Harangody went down with an injury that left the Irish without their biggest star for the biggest stretch of the year.

This learning experience was evident last night.

Abromaitis is the multi-purpose man. He went from hitting 3s, to guarding Louisville phenom guard Preston Knowles, to ripping rebounds away from taller defenders on his way to 24 points — most of which came when Hansbrough was either struggling from the field or sitting on the bench in foul trouble. But the game-changing contribution had yet to be made, as the lead changed hands more times than Jack Cooley — the guy who does the dirty work — has been called Luke Harangody.

Then along came Carleton Scott. Scott is the catalyst. He went from shooting 1-for-7 from the field with three points with less than 10 minutes to go, to shooting 5-for-11 on the night with 16 points and eight rebounds, two of which came after Scott blocked a shot, got the rebound on one end, and snatched another on a putback on the other end. The lanky senior forward even goes into the crowd after the game to celebrate. It’s a mutual feeling. The crowd feeds off his energy and he feeds off theirs, making his game that much better.

Finally, we have the often criticized and seldom appreciated vital defenders who really take away the other team’s best scoring options. Senior forward Tyrone Nash is given the assignment of guarding the opposing big men, who are always bigger than he is. But Nash uses his quickness and deceptive length to get his opponent in foul trouble. Case in point: Nash held instrumental Cardinals forwards Terrence Jennings and George Goode to a combined 16 points and 10 rebounds while drawing fouls on Jennings, which eventually led to Jennings fouling out early in overtime.

Meanwhile, transfer forward Scott Martin guarded red-hot sharpshooter Kyle Kuric, limiting him to two field goals in the last 15 minutes of play after he scored 26 points until that point. Martin is the quintessential team player, passing off multiple shots to keep the movement and rhythm of the offense going while playing 39 minutes.

With these pieces of the puzzle, we are fortunate to witness the true meaning of the word team. The crazy thing is that no one — probably not even Mike Brey himself — expected this team to be in the top-10 this year with an undefeated record at home, after defeating the likes of Connecticut, Marquette, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Louisville, in addition to knocking off No. 2 Pittsburgh on the road.

The truth is, this Notre Dame team looks poised and overly ready to make a run into late March and early April.

The Irish have a lot going for them right now, including a six-game Big East win streak. Plus the coach wears a turtleneck, so what isn’t going well for the Irish these days?