Irish Rewind: Notre Dame escapes non-conference road game in Buffalo

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Tied midway through the second half in a basketball game many expected Notre Dame to run away with, the Irish answered adversity with defense and free-throw shooting Saturday against Canisius.

Notre Dame moved to 9-1, its best start since 1985-86, by holding the Golden Griffins to five field goals over a 10-minute stretch and sinking 25 of 30 free throws the final 20 minutes for an 84-73 victory in front of 7,351 at HSBC Arena.

"That's poise," said Irish senior Ryan Humphrey. "That's veterans stepping up and making free throws when the game's on the line.

"A lot of teams, I don't think could have done that."

That includes Irish squads of seasons past.

"We persevered," said senior David Graves. "Two years ago, we would have lost this game."

Notre Dame's final 13 points came off free throws. The Irish, who finished 35-for-44 from the line, had no field goals the final 4:35 following a Humphrey basket that made it 71-64.

Canisius finished 8-for-16 from the line. Notre Dame was whistled for 15 fouls to 29 for the home team, which had three players foul out. That happens, said Griffs coach Mike MacDonald, when a mid-major school scratches and claws against one from an elite conference.

"They're going to get to some loose balls," he said.

This game belonged to Notre Dame's starters. All five scored in double figures to combine for all 84 points. Graves led all scores with 20 points, including 8-for-10 from the foul line. Humphrey added his fourth double-double of the year with 14 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Freshman guard Chris Thomas had 17 points, six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes. It was the 10th-straight game that Thomas had played at least 30 minutes. He did so Saturday after overcoming early foul trouble.

Thomas picked up three fouls the first 14 minutes. After a brief stay on the sideline, he returned to play the next 25 minutes without a foul.

At one point in the second half, Thomas scored seven straight points, including a rebound dunk off a Humphrey miss that give the Irish a four-point lead.

Thomas rushed out of the arena soon after the final horn to catch a flight home to Indianapolis for Christmas and was unavailable for comment.

So too was senior tri-captain Harold Swanagan, who added 15 points and five rebounds. Swanagan finished 9-for-12 from the foul line, both career-highs.

"Harold's a man," Graves said. "He set the tone for us. When he's playing well, we're playing well."

Having struggled from the floor the last two games, where he scored a total of seven points, including nothing in the loss at Indiana, junior shooting guard Matt Carroll returned from Notre Dame's two-week layoff to score 18 points with four rebounds. The junior, a career 80-percent shooter from the line, finished 11-of-12, including 7-for-8 the final 2:39.

A pair of Carroll free throws gave Notre Dame the lead for good, 40-39, with 17:29 to play.

Notre Dame trailed at halftime for the third consecutive game. Irish head coach Mike Brey turned the room over to his three seniors -- Graves, Humphrey and Swanagan -- to muster up motivation for the final 20 minutes.

"They were a little disgusted with our effort defensively, as I was," Brey said. "They've done a great job of identifying the problem and accepting responsibility."

Brian Dux led Canisius with 17 points while Andy Bush added 13 and Dewitt Doss 12 for a team that falls to 1-5.

"We're not happy or satisfied right now," MacDonald said. "This will make us better down the stretch."

The Irish opened a four-point lead at 52-48 midway through the second half, only to see Canisius pull even on a pair of 3-point shots to offset a Humphrey bucket.

"We've very fortunate to win it," Brey said. "This is a game where you very easily could have gotten beat."

Following a 3-pointer by Richard Jones with 11:21 remaining, the Irish made good on their collective promise to get defensive.

Quick to close out on shooters and prohibit anything from coming inside, Notre Dame held the Griffs without a field goal for nearly four minutes.

"We finally got committed to playing defense," said Humphrey. "The first half, they were slicing us every way possible. The second half, we had each guy take it upon himself to guard their man."

Canisius shot better the second half than the first -- 43.8 percent to 42.4 -- but the Irish were able to limit looks by out-rebounding the Griffs 40-27.

A Dux bucket at 7:27 finally snapped a scoreless string, but the Irish had opened a double-digit lead.

"They had this game marked on their schedule," said Humphrey. "And they almost got us."

Staff writer Tom Noie: tnoie@sbtinfo.com (219) 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 comes from the 2001-02 season - the last time before this week's trip to the NCAA tournament that Notre Dame played in Buffalo, N.Y.

Facing Canisius in a non-conference game before Christmas break, Notre Dame got 18 points from guard Matt Carroll, a big defensive play from Ryan Humphrey and got out of Western New York with an 84-73 victory.

This story appeared in the Dec. 23, 2001 edition of the Tribune.

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