Irish Rewind: Road win delivers a Big East West Division title to Notre Dame
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- All Notre Dame needed Saturday afternoon was one final nugget of news to help nudge its way into history.
Just after introduction of the starting lineups for Saturday's first-ever game at Virginia Tech, Irish head coach Mike Brey gathered his five starters to share that news.
A couple hours to the north, Georgetown had just beaten Syracuse. If the Irish won their fifth consecutive road game, something that had not happened at Notre Dame since the 1953-54 season, they could consider themselves outright champions of the Big East West Division.
The 18th-ranked Irish then proceeded to play their most compete conference contest of the season, jumping all over inexperienced and undermanned Virginia Tech, cruising to an 85-61 victory in front of 7,148 at Cassell Coliseum.
It was the largest margin of victory for a Big East game in school history.
Notre Dame's 10th win in 11 games gives the Irish a 19-6 overall mark, 11-3 in the league. Brey's bunch leads Georgetown and Syracuse, tied for second place, by three games with only two league games remaining.
The first-place Irish, picked by some in the preseason to finish as low as fourth, wrapped up the No. 1 seed from the West Division in the upcoming Big East Tournament.
"I'm really happy for this group," said Brey, Notre Dame's third coach in as many seasons. "Everything this group has been through, they deserve to be the first team to hang a league championship banner in the rafters of the Joyce Center.
"No group is more deserving."
All-America power forward Troy Murphy led a balanced and complete Irish attack with 20 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for his 44th career double-double, the 12th of the season and fourth in the last six games.
"To come out and win (a championship) with a week left says a lot about our team," Murphy said. "It means how far we've come."
Shooting guard Matt Carroll connected on 7-of-10 shots from the floor for 19 points with five rebounds and three assists. He was all smiles leaving the locker room.
"You can't beat it," Carroll said. "It's a great feeling. I'm just happy because we worked hard for this."
Junior small forward David Graves, much-maligned by fans back home the past week, returned to form with 19 points and a season-high 10 rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench. Ryan Humphrey capped the four Irish in double figures with 12 points to go with seven rebounds and a career-high five assists.
"We really played well as a team," said senior point guard Martin Ingelsby, the team leader in minutes played this season who logged a relatively easy 28 on Saturday. "We moved the ball (and) we got some great looks."
Virginia Tech saw three players score double figures, led by Carlton Carter's 17. But coach Ricky Stokes' team, out-rebounded 46-29, could do little right in the final home game of the season, which Notre Dame led by as many as 34 points.
"They shot the ball well early," said Stokes, whose Hokies fall to 8-18 overall, 2-13 in the East Division. "By them shooting the ball so well early, maybe the season took its toll on us."
The Irish were bundled with nervous energy before the game. Graves hurried back to the locker room after warm-ups and checked his cell phone/Internet service to find a Georgetown score.
"He's high-tech like that," Murphy said of his close friend.
Notre Dame realized the Syracuse outcome just after the Hokies' starting five was introduced.
Brey, who minutes earlier had joked in a back hallway of the arena "to (heck) with the score," made sure of it.
"I just wanted to let them know that this was a championship game," he said. "I thought we started off like it was."
Graves believes knowing what needed to be done helped fine-tune an Irish focus that was already sharp.
"We just played loose," he said. "Offensively, we just put on a clinic out there. We did things we hadn't done all year."
With Notre Dame embracing the pressure of having to win once more to clinch the division, Virginia Tech never had a chance.
Save for a 16-second stretch where the game was tied 4-4, the Irish led the entire way. Notre Dame carried a 17-point lead into the locker room at intermission after shooting 60 percent from the floor, holding Tech to 34 percent and grabbing 22 rebounds to the Hokies' 11.
"You need starts like that on the road," Murphy said. "It puts the other team down, demoralizes them."
Everything the Irish tried, on either end of the floor, worked well. That has been the case since Jan. 27, when the five-game road winning streak commenced with an impressive win over a Top 10-Georgetown team.
"We're better on the road than we are at home," Brey said. "There's something about our demeanor on the road.
"We have been more efficient."
That certainly was true the first half.
If Murphy wasn't hitting 5-of-7 from a variety of spots on the floor, Graves was knocking in four of his first five shots after going 4-for-21 the previous two games.
Carroll kept up his sizzling shooting by adding nine points from the outside while Humphrey, his sprained right ankle much-improved, scored six points with five rebounds as the Irish twice stretched their lead to as many as 17 points.
"We just wanted to take it to them," Carroll said. "We wanted to show that we're the best team in the league."
This was an unexpected end to a season that has become special for many different reasons. And the team's top goal is still three weeks away from being officially realized -- ending the 11-year drought without an NCAA Tournament bid.
"The biggest smiles on these guys' faces, and don't get me wrong, they're very happy," Brey said, "will be March 11 at 6:30 when we flash up in that big bracket. This is what they've been driving for a long time."
Saturday just made the ride that much more magical.
Staff writer Tom Noie:
• NOTRE DAME 85, VIRGINIA TECH 61
At Blacksburg, Va.
NOTRE DAME (85)
min fg ft rb pf tp
32 Troy Murphy 7-10 5-6 10 2 20
30 Ryan Humphrey 3-6 6-11 7 3 12
31 David Graves 8-14 1-2 10 1 19
2 Hans Rasmussen 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
31 Matt Carroll 7-10 2-2 5 0 19
38 Martin Ingelsby 2-6 0-0 3 0 6
3 Ivan Kartelo 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
14 Torrian Jones 1-4 2-2 1 3 5
3 Charles Thomas 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
11 Jere Macura 0-1 0-1 2 1 0
11 Harold Swanagan 0-1 2-2 0 1 2
4 Tom Timmermans 1-3 0-0 1 1 2
TOTALS 29-55 18-27 46 12 85
3-point fg-fga included in totals above: Graves 2-8, Carroll 3-6, Ingelsby 2-5, Murphy 1-3, Torrian Jones 1-1, Tom Timmermans 0-2. TOTALS: 9-25.
VIRGINIA TECH (61)
min fg ft rb pf tp
35 Carlton Carter 8-12 0-1 9 3 17
25 Mibindo Dongo 4-9 2-4 4 4 10
22 Joe Hamilton 1-7 0-1 4 0 2
35 Brian Chase 3-12 0-0 0 0 8
27 Carlos Dixon 6-13 0-0 6 3 14
18 Jon Smith 1-4 2-2 1 5 4
18 Drew Smith 1-4 0-0 3 2 3
4 Chris Exilus 0-2 0-0 0 0 0
16 Danny Gathings 1-5 1-1 0 2 3
TOTALS 25-68 5-9 29 19 61
3-point fg-fga included in totals above: Carter 1-1, Hamilton 0-4, Chase 2-9, Carlos Dixon 2-8, J. Smith 0-1, D. Smith 1-4, Exilus 0-1, Gathings 0-1. TOTALS: 6-29.
Halftime score: Notre Dame 45, Virginia Tech 28.
Shooting: Notre Dame 29-55 (53 percent), Virginia Tech 25-68 (37 percent).
Assists: Notre Dame 21 (Ingelsby 6), Virginia Tech 13 (Dixon, D. Smith 3).
Turnovers: Notre Dame 10 (Murphy 3), Virginia Tech 5.
Officials: John Cahill, Anthony Greene, Curtis Shaw.
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 jumps back to coach Mike Brey's first season in South Bend. Before there were the back-to-back runs to the Elite Eight, before an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship and before there was sustained success in the Big East, heck, before there was a return trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in over a decade, there was a regular-season West Division championship, won, in all places, Blacksburg. Va.
It was the first and only one in school history.
This story appeared in the Feb. 25, 2001 edition of the Tribune.
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