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Irish blow past Bearcats on their way into semifinals

Matt Gamber | Thursday, March 10, 2011

NEW YORK — Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough led a balanced offensive attack with 23 points as No. 2-seed Notre Dame rolled by seventh-seeded Cincinnati 89-51 Thursday night.

Early 3-pointers from Scott Martin, Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis gave the Irish (26-5, 15-4 Big East) an 11-3 lead before the first media timeout. Notre Dame never looked back, as the Irish shot 56 percent from the field and recorded assists on 22 of their 33 field goals to cruise to the second-largest margin of victory in Big East tournament history.

“We got out of the gate great. Our offensive efficiency was excellent,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I thought we did a good job of making decisions when they pressed us to get open looks when we had numbers advantages, and it’s good to play well on that floor because we would like to keep playing here for a while.”

Even with senior forward Tyrone Nash on the bench with two early fouls, the Irish stifled Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates, who dominated South Florida Wednesday by making 10 of his 11 field goal attempts for 25 points. The combination of Nash and fellow senior forward Carleton Scott held Gates to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. As a team, the Bearcats shot only 33 percent from the field and 23 percent from beyond the arc, not scoring a point in the last 7:25.

“They played good defense, collapsing in the paint,” Gates said. “Really you’ve got to give them credit. They came ready to play tonight and did what they do.”

Scott scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting and added six rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Abromaitis had 17 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Nash added eight points and five rebounds, all in the second half.

With No. 1-seed Pittsburgh’s loss to Connecticut earlier in the day, the Irish are now the highest-seeded team in the Big East tournament. Brey said Notre Dame, ranked No. 4 nationally, deserves consideration for one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

“Absolutely, we do,” Brey said. “I haven’t talked to [the team] much about that much because we talked about coming here and getting our program to [the Big East championship game] Saturday night. Somewhere we’ve never been, and I feel it’s the next step after we’ve been so consistent, we’ve been to the semis. But strong resume for [a No. 1], absolutely.”

The Irish will play either Louisville or Marquette at 9 p.m. Friday for a chance to face either Syracuse or Connecticut in Saturday night’s final.