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Opening-round win a ‘thrill’ for Irish

Douglas Farmer | Friday, March 18, 2011

Second-seeded Notre Dame advanced further in the NCAA tournament than it has since 2008 with its 69-56 victory over No. 15-seed Akron Friday.

“We’re thrilled to advance,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Any time you win a game in this tournament, I think that’s a huge thing.”

The Irish led the Zips wire-to-wire, with fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis providing Notre Dame’s first six points. From there, the first half swayed back-and-forth, ending with a four-point Irish lead.

“I think we were a little wired in the first half,” Brey said. “It took us a while to kind of calm down. I’m glad the halftime was 20 minutes because we needed all of it just to kind of ratchet our blood pressure down a little bit.”

Coming out of halftime, senior guard Scott Martin scored six points within the first six minutes. Martin picked up two quick fouls in the first half and only tallied two points prior to the break. With added playing time in the second half, he ended with 11 points and six rebounds.

“I think Scott Martin got it going on us,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said. “When you’re guarding him with a 6-foot-2 guy and he’s 6-foot-8, it’s difficult … That’s a little hard at times. So our margin of error is a little smaller than their margin of error.”

Akron sophomore center Zeke Marshall helped limit Irish senior guard Ben Hansbrough to only 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting despite playing 40 minutes.

“[Marshall] changed some shots. He is one long guy,” Brey said. “I don’t know if we played against anybody in the Big East [like him]. He bothered us sometimes. I think he bothered Ben on some drives in the first half.”

While Marshall posed a quandary for the Irish when trying to score – he tallied four blocks amid numerous altered shots – he played far from efficiently on the offensive end, going 2-of-13 from the field for only five points.

“I had four two-foot layups I missed in the early part of the game,” Marshall said. “I don’t really recall their defense that caused me to miss. It was just me missing.”

Dambrot said simply missing shots did the Zips in against the higher-ranked Irish.

“We just couldn’t put enough baskets together on a continuous basis to win,” he said. “That’s what a mid-major has to do to beat a high-major with a seed that high, is you have to shoot ball better than that.”

In an attempt to shoot a high percentage, Dambrot’s gameplan emphasized inside scoring.

“They’re not huge in [the interior],” Dambrot said. “They’re huge everywhere else, but not there. And so that’s about the size we played against most of the year.”

Instead, Marshall contributed to an overall performance of 35.9 percent from the field.

“Defense was the place where we set the tone and rebounding,” Martin said.

Senior forward Carleton Scott led the Irish in rebounding, pulling down 14 boards, compared to Marshall’s six.

“It’s a challenge, facing a bigger opponent,” Scott said. “It’s a challenge on the glass. We knew he’s a long guy and going to be up there on the glass. I was like, hey, got to try and get every rebound I possibly can. I went out there with that mindset.”

As a result of Scott’s 14 rebounds, Martin’s 11 points and Notre Dame’s relaxed demeanor after halftime, the Irish advance to face Florida State in the third round of the NCAA tournament Sunday.