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Men’s Basketball: Gutsy victory

Mike Gotimer | Monday, March 7, 2011

When senior guard Ben Hansbrough fouled out with over eight minutes remaining in the game, No. 8 Notre Dame found itself in the unenviable position of pulling out a road win against a ranked opponent on its senior night without its top player.

The Irish, however, held off a Connecticut surge and left the Gampel Pavilion with a 70-67 — Notre Dame’s first win ever on Connecticut’s campus.

After squandering a 10-point lead, the Irish (25-5, 14-4 Big East) finished the game on a 10-2 run in the final four minutes to earn a crucial road win that bolsters Notre Dame’s already impressive NCAA tournament resume. Despite the run, the game was in doubt right down to the final possession, when Connecticut senior guard Donnell Beverly fumbled away a pass from junior guard Kemba Walker as time expired. On the Huskies’ previous possession, Walker missed a three-pointer that would have given Connecticut the lead.

Following the win, Irish coach Mike Brey was beaming with pride over his team’s gutty performance.

“Couldn’t be more proud of our group,” Brey said in his post-game radio show. “Obviously we lose Ben with 8 minutes left but our nucleus of other guys just played so well. It was almost a little like [former Irish player] Luke Harangody being out last year. A good player is gone and others just step forward. I thought we really defended well outside of our zone in the last four minutes to get us out of there alive.”

The Irish held an 8-point lead with 12:04 remaining in the game when Hansbrough picked up his fourth foul of the game. Notre Dame held off the Huskies (21-9, 9-9) for the next three and a half minutes, opening up a 10-point lead on a three-pointer from senior forward Carleton Scott. Walker hit two free throws at the other end, but sophomore forward Jack Cooley gave Notre Dame a 60-50 lead with just under ten minutes to go in the game. A minute and a half later, however, Hansbrough picked up his fifth foul with 8:24 left in the game, just ten seconds after checking into the game for the final time. The foul sent the home crowd into a frenzy and shifted the momentum in the Huskies’ favor as they went on a 15-0 run to take the lead, with 13 of those points coming after Hansbrough’s departure. Walker, who finished with 34 points in the game, scored 11 points in the Connecticut run.

“Just because the crowd was going and Ben was out, we still had a chance to win the game,” Brey said. “I told them that it was just like the Peterson Center [in Pittsburgh]. We were at the same striking distance, down two possessions with four minutes to go and I said, ‘Let’s just play. Relax.’ We tried to put some pressure on them and see if they could finish and our guys did a really good job of that and different guys stepped up.”

The Irish battled back with scores from seniors Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash, who had 6 points and an assist in Notre Dame’s winning rally and finished with 13 points on the day.

Following the win, Hansbrough, who scored 21 points in 27 minutes, was named first team all-conference on Sunday while Abromaitis was named to the third team. Hansbrough was the only unanimous selection to the first team.

With the regular season complete, the Irish will head to New York this week for the Big East Tournament. As the No. 2 seed, the Irish earned a double-bye in the tournament and will play their first game Thursday.