Irish Rewind: Chris Thomas puts it all on the (foul) line in Notre Dame win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Shaky handling the ball Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame sophomore point guard Chris Thomas settled down to do just fine from the free-throw line.

Hounded into a career-high 10 turnovers against persistent Georgetown pressure, Thomas sank four free throws the final 19 seconds to help the 16th-ranked Irish snap a three-game losing streak with an 86-80 victory in front of 17,875 at the MCI Center.

"The team has enough confidence, I have enough confidence to go to the line and do what it takes for my team to win," Thomas said.

Thomas scored a game-high 29 points with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals in 40 minutes. He shot 9-of-16 from the floor, 3-of-8 from 3 and had a look in his eyes that told teammates they could count on him to help find a way to win this one.

With leading scorer Matt Carroll saddled by foul trouble the second half, Thomas took over. With the score tied at 53, he scored 11 points during a decisive 21-12 Irish run.

"He refused to let us lose," said head coach Mike Brey. "What he talked about in the huddles and to our guys kept them confident."

Irish senior small forward Dan Miller added 17 points and four rebounds while Carroll had 15 points in a season-low 23 minutes. Asked to guard Mike Sweetney, the league's premier power forward, Irish freshman Torin Francis scored seven points with eight rebounds and three blocks.

In need of someone besides Thomas to solve defensive pressure, the Irish received a career-high 29 minutes from freshman Chris Quinn. He finished with eight points, five rebounds, three steals and a career-high six assists.

"I just wanted to come in and bring energy," Quinn said.

Notre Dame won for the sixth consecutive time at the MCI Center and is 22-8 overall, the program's most wins in the regular season since 1986-87.

The Irish finish 10-6 and tied for third place with Seton Hall in the Big East West Division. Notre Dame, which falls to fourth based on divisional records, is the only team in the league to win at least 10 games each of the last three years.

"We're very proud of that for our program," Brey said.

The Irish open the Big East Tournament Wednesday against St. John's, the No. 5 seed in the East. Tip-off is noon at Madison Square Garden.

Against Georgetown, Notre Dame led by as many as 13 points three times in the second half before two Miller free throws made it a nine-point game with 1:22 remaining. A Tony Bethel layup made it 81-74 before Carroll turned it over in the open floor. Ashanti Cook then answered with a 3-pointer to draw Georgetown within four.

Jones followed with a turnover before Gerald Riley, Georgetown's best outside shooter, pulled up for a 3-pointer that would have cut the Irish lead to one. But officials ruled that Riley had one foot on the line, then checked the replay to make sure.

Georgetown got no closer.

Two Thomas free throws made it 84-80 with 19 seconds remaining. Riley then raced down the floor and got all the way to the rim, only to have his one-handed dunk bounce off the back iron. Thomas grabbed the rebound and was fouled before sealing it with two more tosses.

To help shake the Irish from their slide, where they had gone exactly two weeks without a win, Brey moved junior Torrian Jones into the starting lineup for the first time this year in place of sophomore Jordan Cornette. It was the team's first lineup change in 14 games.

Jones brought three points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes to the mix while Cornette contributed seven points in nine minutes.

"They gave us great minutes," Brey said. "We had to start the game a little differently and come with a different rotation."

Cornette scored all of his points -- a layup, 3-pointer and dunk -- in a 1:09 stretch during the first half. The Irish, who once trailed by as many as eight, grabbed their first lead in over 125 minutes of game action at 26-24 following Cornette's layup.

The Irish trailed by as many as five in the second half, then played in front for the final 10:23.

"We believed we were going to win," Brey said, "even though their pressure rattled us a little bit."

Winners of four of its last six coming in, Georgetown wraps the regular season 14-13 overall, 6-10 in the league.

"This is another example for us of the effort being there," said Hoyas coach Craig Esherick. "We could have quit but we didn't.

"We had a shot at this game and we let it get away."

Sweetney led the Hoyas with 26 points and nine rebounds. Riley added 21 but the Irish zone defense limited Georgetown to 38.5 percent from the floor, 37.5 percent from 3.

The Irish allowed 14 offensive rebounds the first half, then limited the Hoyas to only eight the final 20 minutes.

"The main emphasis was defensively, just being aggressive with what we play," said Jones. "We really talked well and made guys make decisions instead of hoping for a miss."

Called for his fourth foul at the 10:52 mark of the second half, Carroll went to the bench with the Irish up by only two. A Sweetney basket tied it at 55 before Thomas took over.

Thomas scored 11 points while Miller and Francis each added five as the Irish ran off 21 of the game's next 33 points.

"I felt like the shots and tempo of the offense came better for me to create," Thomas said. "When Matty goes out, it's up to me to control the tempo and be the leader on the court."

That he was.

Staff writer Tom Noie:

(574) 235-6153

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

This week's Irish Rewind heads back to the 2002-03 season finale. Notre Dame entered a road game against Georgetown having lost three in a row. Nobody knew what postseason might have in store for the Irish. But a big win at Verizon Center helped set the stage for Notre Dame's first Sweet 16 in 16 seasons.

This story appeared in the March 8, 2002 edition of the Tribune.

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