IRISH REWIND: Finally, a fun finale for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Halfway through Sunday's home finale against Boston College, Notre Dame seemed headed for a second lackluster loss against the Big East's last-place team.

The Irish starters had other ideas.

Notre Dame's top five made a collective agreement that it would be a different story the final 20 minutes. All then placed in double-figures, led by senior Phil Hickey, who tied his career high with 21 points in his final home game.

Freshman Troy Murphy added 17 points and 12 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season. Hours after the game he was named Big East co-rookie of the week with St. John's point guard Erick Barkley. It was Murphy's eighth such honor.

Classmate David Graves contributed 15 points, five assists and four rebounds as Notre Dame notched a 78-59 victory in front of 9,043 fans at the Joyce Center.

"It was," Murphy said, "as much fun as we've had all year."

"That's the kind of balance that you really like to see," Irish coach John MacLeod said. "There were a lot of things that were positive about this game. That's the way you'd like to have a senior night finish."

Senior shooting guard Antoni Wyche scored all 11 of his points in the second half and added a game-high seven assists as the Irish won their final regular-season game for the first time in his career.

"Dinged up and banged up, they have continued to battle," MacLeod said of his two senior starters. "They've handled themselves well. It was great to see the two of them have success."

The Irish finish the regular season 14-15 overall, 8-10 in the Big East, which ties the school record for conference victories. Picked in the preseason coaches' poll to finish 12th among 13 league teams, Notre Dame placed eighth, but only two games out of a tie for fourth.

"The good thing is that we didn't listen to it," MacLeod said of the preseason prediction, which served as a rallying cry all season. "We accomplished quite a bit."

MacLeod's men play ninth-place Seton Hall at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the first round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Should Notre Dame win its first-ever tournament game, top-seeded Connecticut awaits Thursday at noon.

Boston College, which finished the season winless on the road at 0-9, fell to 6-20 overall, 3-15 in the Big East. The Eagles, who received a 21-point, five-rebound effort from shooting guard Kenny Harley, play Syracuse on Wednesday.

"We played a good first 20 minutes," said Boston College coach Al Skinner, "but fatigue and foul trouble became our problems."

A quick 10 points from Murphy helped the Irish grab an early five-point lead, only to have Boston College bounce back with a late run and a four-point lead at intermission.

"In the early going, it looked like we were running in sand," MacLeod said. "Thank goodness there was a second half."

The halftime hole bothered the Irish because Boston College took the lead the same way it won the teams' first meeting in late January.

"They beat us to loose balls and really outscrapped us," Murphy said. "They wanted it more than we did. We made sure that we weren't going to let that happen again."

Prior to taking the court for the final 20 minutes, the five Irish starters agreed that if Notre Dame was to win this one, or fall short down the stretch, the group wanted the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.

"When we walked out on the floor the second half, we were like 'We're not going to let these guys beat us no matter what,'" point guard Martin Ingelsby said.

Boston College had little answer for a diversified Irish offense the rest of the way. Notre Dame saw its deficit slip to six early in the second despite an inspired effort from Ingelsby.

Held without a point the first half while trying to shake the soreness of a sprained left ankle that kept him out of Wednesday's loss at St. John's, Ingelsby opened with seven consecutive points to keep the deficit at six.

"I wanted to be aggressive and got a couple open shots and it broke the game open," said Ingelsby, who finished with 10 points and four assists in 25 minutes. "If the inside and outside (game) is going, we're a tough team to beat."

Following Ingelsby's spurt, Notre Dame soon squeezed off 18 of the game's next 21 points, and did so in a variety of ways.

Graves got loose for a 3-pointer from the right wing. Murphy drove the baseline for a reverse layup before Hickey and Wyche each contributed.

Wyche refused to hang his hat on the showing of the starters during the stretch.

"It was just nice to see us make a run. I don't care which five were in the game," he said. "That's the way this team has been all year. We're not a very selfish team."

Scoreless the opening 20 minutes while trying to feed a steady diet of post passes to Irish big men, Wyche scored seven quick points to push the Irish advantage to six, 52-46, with 10:26 to play.

"We were focused on shutting them down in the second half," Wyche said after the Irish lead toyed with double-figures the final eight minutes. "We just started clicking offensively."

It ran so smoothly that MacLeod left his starters go the first 11:30 of the half before sending in senior Paul Rainey for Wyche.

"All five, we had a good run going there," MacLeod said of scrapping his substitution pattern. "I didn't want to break it up."

Of Notre Dame's 48 second-half points, only a late Todd Palmer free throw, and four of the final 78 points, came from someone other than a starter.

Notre Dame also benefited from taking better care of the basketball. The Irish averaged 22 turnovers the past five games, but committed only 13 against Boston College. Nine steals, eight blocked shots and 14 forced turnovers helped the Irish muster easy scoring chances.

"We knew that we could take control of the game," Graves said. "We just needed to return the favor and put a lot of defensive pressure on them. Once we did that, the tides turned."

Halftime score: Boston College 34, Notre Dame 30.

Shooting: Notre Dame 28-of-52 (54 percent), Boston College 24-of-67 (36 percent).

Assists: Notre Dame 19 (Wyche 7), Boston College 11 (Walls 3, Beerbohm 3).

Turnovers: Notre Dame 13 (Wyche 3), Boston College 14 (Pina 4).

Officials: Tom Lopes, Ed Corbett and Will Bush.

Attendance: 9,043.

Troy Murphy, left, and Phil Hickey helped Notre Dame win its 1999 home finale, the last win for Notre Dame under coach John MacLeod.Tribune File Photo

Each week during the college basketball regular season, NDI takes a look back at a memorable Irish game with a reprint of the story that appeared in the South Bend Tribune.

This week's Irish Rewind appeared in the March 1, 1999 edition following Notre Dame's 78-59 victory over Boston College in the 1998-99 regular-season finale. It was Notre Dame's final win under coach John MacLeod, who would soon resign following eight seasons in South Bend.

If you have a suggestion for Irish Rewind, send it to tnoie@ndinsider.com.