Irish Rewind: Notre Dame men escape Fort Wayne hoops road trip

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

FORT WAYNE -- Jogging off the floor Sunday evening following the final horn and handshakes, Notre Dame freshman Ryan Ayers looked over his left shoulder to see his head coach charging at him.

Ayers stopped and stared as Mike Brey pumped his right fist and pointed the rookie's way, acknowledgments for a job done well.

With Sunday's game against IPFW set to be decided in the closing seconds, it was Ayers, coming off the bench late, who knocked the ball from former Elkhart Central guard Brad Pompey as time expired. That allowed the Irish to escape with a 65-63 victory in front of 8,957 at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

"I'm excited we got that stop at the end," said Ayers, who played nine scoreless minutes. "The outcome was a little closer than we wanted, but we came out with the victory."

Senior power forward Torin Francis led three Irish in double figures with a game- and season-high 24 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds for his 26th career double-double in 37 minutes.

"I told our team in the locker room, it's a great win because we won," Brey said. "Very simple. I'm happy to get out of town with a win."

The Irish seemingly had it on cruise control late, even though the Mastodons had time and again easily cut into what had been a double-digit deficit. A Francis lay-in pushed the Irish advantage to nine points -- 65-56 -- with 3:25 remaining. It would be Notre Dame's final points of the game.

"They had momentum, home court," said Russell Carter, who contributed his first career double-double with 11 points and a career- and game-high 14 rebounds with six steals, also a personal best. "It was kind of hard to deal with. We just took that and came out with a win."

While going cold from the field, the Irish also had to work the remaining minutes with a lineup that twice featured Carter, Francis and three freshmen after Colin Falls and Rob Kurz both fouled out within 2:27 of one another. His "men" had won two games earlier at Alabama by holding off a late Tide run, but Brey's "boys" made it possible for Notre Dame to move to 5-2 overall and escape what could have been an NCAA Tournament resume disaster.

"We had immense game pressure on us and we had some rookies make some very big plays," Brey said.

Losers of its last three and six of its last seven, IPFW falls to 2-7, though coach Dane Fife considered his team winners afterward, writing on the locker room bulletin board that they had just taken a Big East team to overtime, and would look to finish the job next time out against Purdue.

"Our guys, they competed their tails off until the end," Fife said. "Notre Dame, to come and play us here, that just shows the guts Coach Brey has."

Notre Dame played without leading scorer Chris Quinn, the senior co-captain who suffered a bone bruise in his left ankle Thursday during a scrimmage. The decision to keep the team's top point guard out of the game was announced about 40 minutes before tip-off. Freshman Kyle McAlarney made the first start of his collegiate career.

"I enjoyed it," said McAlarney, who scored six points with four assists and two steals in a career-high 37 minutes. "Coach uses the phrase a lot, 'Just go out and have fun.' I had a great time. It was a great game.

"I just went out, handled the ball well and tried to do my best."

Quinn's status is day-to-day this week, one where Notre Dame plays three games in six days after the previous eight away for final exams.

"I'm looking at (returning) Wednesday," Quinn said afterward, though Brey said his floor leader would be "very questionable" for the home game against Niagara. "It's tough with what I have to really know for sure."

With Quinn on the sideline in a pinstripe suit, the Irish relied on McAlarney as well as fellow freshman Ayers and Falls to handle the ball and get the Irish into their offense. Sometimes it worked as Notre Dame led by double-digits seven times in the first 20 minutes. Other times it did not as Notre Dame shot 39.1 percent in the second half with 13 total turnovers.

Looking to go for the win rather than force overtime, IPFW inbounded the ball from in front of the Irish bench with 3.3 seconds remaining. Pompey worked his way toward the IPFW sideline to launch a potential game-winning 3-pointer from the wing, a scenario strikingly similar to Notre Dame's last-second loss to Central Michigan in 2003.

Switching off his guy to guard Pompey, who had shaken free of McAlarney, the lanky 6-foot-8 Ayers slapped the ball away as Pompey prepared to rise up. The ball rolled in front of the Mastodon bench as the clock drained away.

"I was able to get back there and recover," Ayers said.

"That's just a son of a coach right there," Brey said of Ayers.

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NOTRE DAME 65, IPFW 63

NOTRE DAME (65)

min fg ft rb pf tp

36 Colin Falls 6-16 0-0 1 5 15

37 Kyle McAlarney 1-7 3-4 3 1 6

37 Torin Francis 10-13 4-4 11 3 24

14 Luke Zeller 2-3 0-0 2 1 5

38 Russell Carter 2-10 6-7 14 2 11

3 Rick Cornett 0-1 0-0 0 0 0

26 Rob Kurz 0-1 4-4 3 5 4

0+ Zach Hillesland 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

9 Ryan Ayers 0-0 0-0 0 1 0

TOTALS 21-51 17-19 40 18 65

3-point fg-fga included in totals above:Falls 3-7, McAlarney 1-6, Zeller 1-2, Carter 1-2, TOTALS 6-17 (35 percent).

IPFW (63)

min fg ft rb pf tp

39 DeWitt Scott 5-14 0-0 3 3 14

40 Justin Hawkins 2-9 3-4 6 3 8

28 Qntn Carouthers 5-10 3-4 2 5 13

34 Brad Pompey 3-7 4-4 5 2 10

39 Tyler Best 5-14 0-1 4 2 12

1 Jakari Johnson 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

18 Kyle Savely 2-5 1-1 3 2 6

1 Zeljko Egeric 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

TOTALS 22-59 11-14 29 17 63

3-point fg-fga included in totals above: Scott 4-9, Hawkins 1-3, Carouthers 0-2, Pompey 0-3, Best 2-4, Saveley 1-2,TOTALS 8-23 (35 percent).

Halftime score: Notre Dame 38, IPFW 30.

Shooting: Notre Dame 21-of-51 (41 percent), IPFEW 22-of-59 (37 percent); Assists: Notre Dame 14 (McAlarney 4), IPFW 9 (Pompey 4); Turnovers: Notre Dame 13 (McAlarney 3, Carter 3), IPFW 11 (Pompey 4).

Officials: Curtis Shaw, Tim Fogarty and Mike Roberts; Attendance: 8,957.

Known mostly for his offensive abilities, former Notre Dame guard and current assistant coach Ryan Ayers made a key defensive play to help beat Fort Wayne, then known as IPFW, in 2005. (Tribune File Photo)

Each week during the college basketball 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 seems fitting given Tuesday's home game in Fort Wayne.

Back about a decade, Notre Dame agreed to something rare in today's college basketball world - a 2-for-1 series with Fort Wayne, then known as IPFW, a program still relatively new to Division I. The Irish got two home games to one true December road game - and nearly regretted it.

Freshman guard Ryan Ayers, now an Irish assistant coach, made a big play late to help seal a 65-63 Irish win. 

This story appeared in the Dec. 19, 2005 edition of the Tribune.

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