Irish Rewind: Big East tournament break-through for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK -- Nine seconds still remained, but when the Big East Player of the Year pumped his fist at midcourt, redemption, and a piece of history had arrived for Notre Dame.

Irish sophomore power forward Troy Murphy, who picked up the league's highest honor the previous evening, scored 25 points with 14 rebounds while going a full 40 minutes as a balanced Notre Dame effort produced the school's first-ever league tournament victory Wednesday, a 74-62 decision over Rutgers.

Four Irish scored in double figures as David Graves, Harold Swanagan and Jere Macura each tallied 10 points. Notre Dame improved to 18-13. Losers of its final four, Rutgers fell to 15-15. Dhantay Jones led the Scarlet Knights with 19 points while fellow guard Todd Billet added 16.

Notre Dame trailed only once -- 3-2. The Irish lead soared to as many as 16 points in the second half as Rutgers never crept closer than nine.

"It was a great win for us," said Irish coach Matt Doherty. "We had a lot to prove to ourselves."

Especially Murphy, who was battered and beaten down in the first meeting. The Sparta, N.J., native, who signed with Notre Dame over Rutgers, has scored 53 points with 29 rebounds in two conference tournament games.

"It means a lot to the program," said Murphy, deflecting attention from another fine effort that resulted in his 19th double-double of the season. "It's a step forward for us."

One that brings the Irish closer to an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since the 1990 season.

"I know they had a lot to play for," Rutgers coach Kevin Bannon said. "They sure played like it. I think Matt really had them ready."

Next up for the Irish is a rematch with co-conference champion Miami tonight at 7. Winners of 11 of their last 12, the Hurricanes have beaten Notre Dame twice this season, including a game in South Florida less than three weeks ago where coach Leonard Hamilton's club, playing without leading scorer Johnny Hemsley, erased a 12-point Irish lead in the second half.

"They may be the best defensive team we've faced this year," Doherty said. "It's a challenge (but) we have nothing to lose."

Intent on proving a 25-point loss to the Scarlet Knights in mid-January was a fluke, the focused Irish started quickly, scored often and coasted home at Madison Square Garden. The offense flowed more freely than in the earlier Rutgers loss, mainly because Notre Dame showed more patience. Rather than force the issue, the Irish ran their sets to extended success and 51 percent shooting as Bannon was left with few answers.

"They cut so hard and they ran their offense so well that we just really had a hard time taking them out of anything they ran," he said.

Murphy hit only 6-of-12 shots from the floor but went to the free-throw line 14 times, where he scored 12.

"I just tried to focus on the gameplan," said Murphy. "A lot of times, I tried forcing shots the last game and that got us out of our offense."

Point guard Jimmy Dillon believes the tone for this one was set when the Irish emerged from the locker room, only to see a group of Scarlet Knights shooting at Notre Dame's end of the court. A ladder used to repair a camera atop the other basket had blocked the opposite side. The Irish then listened as Doherty demanded they not be intimidated.

"Coach jumped us pretty good before the game," Dillon said. "He thought there was a little intimidation from us there. He wanted us to be aggressive."

Notre Dame responded with a spark as Swanagan stormed in to rebound a Graves miss with an emphatic dunk for the game's first basket.

"That set the tone for us from the get-go," Dillon said. "It said a lot about how we would play."

Perhaps aware of how physical the teams' first meeting was in mid-January, officials worked this one closely. Less than seven minutes into the second half, both teams entered the bonus after each committing seven fouls.

Notre Dame connected on 20-of-25 foul shots while the Scarlet Knights struggled from the line, hitting only 13-of-23. Each team was whistled for 22 fouls.

Murphy took another physical pounding from Rutgers. Toward the end of the game, he sported a blue wristband near his right elbow to conceal a scrape and carried a fat lip along with a smattering of blood streaked across the back of his jersey. This time, though, he didn't mind.

"Every game has been physical the entire Big East season," Murphy said with a shrug. "That's the way the Big East is."

The Irish hauled a 15-point lead into the locker room at halftime.

Murphy didn't score his first points in the game until 11:30 remained when he sank two free throws, but it mattered little. Matt Carroll scored eight straight points, including a pair of 3s, as Notre Dame opened an 11-3 lead less than four minutes in. It took the Irish more than 16 minutes to score 11 points in the first meeting in Piscataway, N.J.

Rutgers had trimmed a comfortable Irish lead to four points with just under 13 minutes to play in the first half, only to see Notre Dame run off 15 of the next 19 points. Four consecutive points from Murphy preceded an inspirational drive and dunk from Macura, who then found Graves open for a 3 before Murphy hit from beyond the arc to offset two Jones free throws.

"Stupid old me probably should have been playing him a lot more long ago," Doherty said of Macura.

NOTRE DAME 74, RUTGERS 62

NOTRE DAME (74)

min fgftrbpftp

29David Graves4-80-04410

40Troy Murphy6-1212-1414425

18Harold Swanagan2-26-73410

23Matt Carroll3-60-0218

34Jimmy Dillon2-31-2027

8Ivan Kartelo0-00-0130

22Jere Macura4-50-02310

9Martin Ingelsby0-20-0100

16Mike Monserez1-51-2114

1Todd Palmer0-00-0000

TOTALS22-4320-25352274

3-point fg-fga included in totals above: Graves 2-3, Murphy 1-4, Carroll 2-4, Dillon 2-3, Macura 2-3, Ingelsby 0-1, Monserez 1-5. TOTALS: 10-23.

RUTGERS (62)

min fgftrbpftp

37Jeff Groer3-81-44210

26Rashod Kent1-40-3552

3Eugene Dabney0-00-0000

40Todd Billet6-110-02016

37Dahntay Jones5-147-85219

26Joel Salvi3-101-2349

7Luis Flores0-11-2011

11Alvydas Tenys1-10-0242

13Mike Tompson0-33-4443

TOTALS19-5213-23282262

3-point fg-fga included in totals above: Groer 3-6, Billet 4-7, Jones 2-5, Salvi 2-2, Flores 0-1, Tompson 0-2. TOTALS: 11-23.

Halftime score: Notre Dame 37, Rutgers 22.

Shooting: Notre Dame 22-43 (51 percent); Rutgers 19-52 (37 percent).

Assists: Notre Dame 13 (Dillon 5); Rutgers 13 (Billet 5).

Turnovers: Notre Dame 16 (Graves 3, Swanagan 3, Carroll 3); Rutgers 12 (Groer 2, Kent 2, Dabney 2, Jones 2, Salvi 2).

Officials: Tim Higgins, Reggie Greenwood, Will Bush.

To reach Tom Noie: tnoie@sbtinfo.com (219) 235-6153

Troy Murphy helped lead Notre Dame to its first-ever Big East tournament victory in 2000 over Rutgers.Tribune File Photo