NCAA Notebook: Interstate 95 guys good for Notre Dame basketball

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — Running four lanes in each direction just south of Wells Fargo Center, a certain stretch of highway has helped the Notre Dame men’s basketball program sustain its success.

The longest north-south road in the country, Interstate 95 runs over 1,900 miles from Maine to Florida. When it’s time to recruit players to his program, Irish coach Mike Brey makes sure to head somewhere near to I-95 to look for potential prospects.

He’s found plenty, starting in the spring of 2004 when he landed guard Russell Carter from nearby Paulsboro, N.J. He’s gone back a time or two or more to this area.

“Our life-blood from our roster has come from that corridor,” Brey said in advance of Friday’s East Region semifinal showdown (7:27 p.m., TBS) between No. 6 seed Notre Dame (23-11) and No. 7 Wisconsin (22-12). “Boy, in the Philly area, we’ve had some really good ones.”

That I-95 pipeline from Philadelphia started flowing long before Brey arrived in the summer of 2000. Former Irish coach John MacLeod had previously landed guards Jimmy Dillon and Martin Ingelsby. He also signed shooting guard Matt Carroll from suburban Horsham the fall before his final season as coach. Matt Doherty coached only one year in South Bend, but he tapped into I-95 to snag swingman Torrian Jones out of Morrisville, Pa., in 2000.

When Ingelsby was contemplating his first full-time assistant coaching job at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., Brey encouraged him to take it, in part so he could learn to recruit I-95. Ingelsby spent one year at Wagner (2002), before returning to Notre Dame.

Ingelsby’s Philadelphia connections and knowledge of I-95, helped land current Irish guard Steve Vasturia. Other I-95 recruits on the current Irish roster include Zach Auguste (Marlborough, Mass.), Elijah Burns (Troy, N.Y.), Bonzie Colson (New Bedford, Mass.) Matt Farrell (Bridgewater, N.J.) and Matt Ryan (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.).

Though the players come from different parts off the interstate, Brey has found that they all carry something in common.

“I-95 edge,” Brey said. “It’s been an attractive trait that we’ve looked for in recruiting.”

Brey and his staff have signed at least a dozen players from the I-95 corridor. The Irish have another I-95 recruit coming next year in point guard T.J. Gibbs from West Orange, N.J.

Remember when?

Friday’s game in Wells Fargo Center is the first for Notre Dame since a memorable late-Saturday night comeback against Villanova on Feb. 18, 2012 in what was then a key Big East battle.

The Irish fell into a 20-point hole (39-19) late in the first half, then rode the hot shooting of swingman Pat Connaughton and his seven 3-pointers en route to 21 points and a 74-70 overtime victory.

It was Notre Dame’s eighth-straight league win, which tied the school record. Jack Cooley added 18 points and 13 rebounds.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who attended both Irish games last week at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., was in the first row of seats behind the Notre Dame bench that night four years ago. He was busy exchanging high-fives with fellow fans during the comeback as waves of “Let’s go Irish!” chants rolled through the arena.

Brey hopes to turn Wells Fargo Center into Purcell Pavilion East on Friday.

“Philadelphia is a great Notre Dame town,” he said.

 Chemistry test

Wisconsin reached a crossroads in its season in mid-January following an overtime loss to Northwestern. That dropped the Badgers to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten. Making any sort of postseason, let alone the NCAA tournament, was going to be a monumental task.

And it didn’t get any better after Badgers forward Nigel Hayes basically called out his teammates and questioned their toughness. But instead of coming apart, it all came together for Wisconsin.

“All those adverse moments we went through early in the year helped fortify and establish our identity and role of everybody on the team,” said coach Greg Gard. “It just took a little while for that. It took us a while to grow through that.”

 Tourney tidbits

• This is the 10th time the NCAA has held a regional in this city. Wells Fargo Center is the third building to serve as host. The East Regional also has been played downtown at the Palestra and in the long-since demolished Spectrum, which used to stand off Pattison Avenue just north of the current multi-purpose arena.

• Wells Fargo Center has been known by many names since opening in 1996. It also has been called CoreStates Center, First Union Center and Wachovia Center, which it was when Notre Dame made its previous visit in 2012. The Irish are 3-5 all-time in the building with all games played against Villanova.

• Friday is the second time the Irish have played an NCAA Tournament game in Philadelphia. On March 12, 1977, Notre Dame beat Hofstra, 90-83, in an East Region first-round game.

• Former PGA golfer and Madison, Wis., resident Andy North took in Wisconsin’s 50-minute practice Thursday from courtside. A Wisconsin native, North is a noted Badger booster who regularly travels with the team.

• UnderArmour delivered a new shoe to Notre Dame for the second weekend of the NCAA, but the colors are a bit odd. The predominantly white shoes have rainbow soles with a UA logo in blue — Tar Heel blue.

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Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia is one of several players recruited along the all-important Interstate 95 corridor.SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN