Notre Dame men's basketball: Irish relish underdog role

Staff reports
ND Insider

Count ’em out and count on something happening that few saw coming.

Notre Dame did it again Saturday in its first Atlantic Coast Conference game against No. 7 Duke. Playing their second game after losing leading scorer Jerian Grant for the spring semester because of an academic issue, the Irish beat a Top 10 team for the fifth-straight time at home, 79-77.

“This one’s up there,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “This is the team you’ve got to beat in the ACC if you want to kind of feel like you belong. That’s really big for us to start off that way.”

Big? Yes, but not necessarily new. Beating a seemingly better team when no one expects it has become the norm for the Irish (10-4; 1-0) under Brey. Here are six games during his 14-year tenure when few gave Notre Dame a chance.

Notre Dame 67, No. 1 Syracuse 58 (Jan. 21, 2012)

Searching for something to go right after dropping consecutive Big East games and falling to 3-3 in the league, the Irish plugged Pat Connaughton into the starting lineup and rode some Purcell Pavilion (Joyce Center) magic to beat another No. 1. Guard Jerian Grant guaranteed earlier in the week that Notre Dame would “shock the world.” The Irish then did with the first of a school-record nine straight league wins.

Notre Dame 67, No. 11 Louisville 65 (double overtime (Jan. 7, 2012)

Beaten soundly three nights earlier in Cincinnati (71-55), Notre Dame made its first visit to KFC Yum! Center as a fragile group. Sophomore guard Eric Atkins forced the first overtime with a late 3, which helped erase a seven-point deficit with 5:05 remaining. It was Notre Dame’s first victory in Louisville since 1958.

Notre Dame 90, No. 5 Louisville 57 (Feb. 12, 2009)

Staggered by a seven-game losing streak, including a 26-point loss five days earlier after which Brey proclaimed every starting spot up for grabs, Notre Dame won for the first time in 32 days, and won easily. Luke Harangody delivered 32 points and 17 rebounds as the Irish led by as many as 35 in handing the Cardinals their most lopsided loss in Big East history.

Notre Dame 99, No. 4 Alabama 85 (Dec. 6, 2006)

Russell Carter scored 27 points and helped the Irish bust open a 49-all game at halftime with a second consecutive victory over a ranked team for the first time since 2002-03. Alabama had not allowed more than 65 points a game, a mark Notre Dame hit with 13 minutes still to play. The Irish sported throwback uniforms with no names on the back, homage to the 1977-78 Irish team that advanced to the Final Four. Alabama’s coach that night? Mark Gottfried, now at North Carolina State, which visits Tuesday in an ACC contest.

Notre Dame 68, No. 4 Boston College 65 (Feb. 8, 2005)

It had been 25 years since a team last arrived in South Bend undefeated with at least 20 wins, then left with a loss. Irish guard Chris Thomas scored 25 points as Notre Dame played the entire second half with the lead to beat a Boston College team that arrived 20-0.

No. 22 Notre Dame 68, No. 11 Illinois 60 (March 22, 2003)

Two days after nearly seeing its season end against Wisconsin-Milwaukee before a point-blank layup rolled off the rim at the horn, the Irish advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 16 years by playing a near-perfect NCAA tournament second-round game in the old RCA Dome. The Irish put themselves in position to keep playing by scoring 47 first-half points with 13 3-pointers overall.

-Compiled by Tom Noie