Holy Cross 78, Notre Dame 73
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Notre Dame didn’t play like a team that just missed out on an NCAA tournament berth.
Holy Cross looked a lot more deserving of such a berth, outhustling and outplaying the Fighting Irish for a 78-73 victory Tuesday night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, the first postseason victory for the Crusaders in 24 years.
“Nobody expected us to win any games in this tournament,” said Kevin Hamilton, who led Holy Cross with a career-high 26 points. “We’re a mid-major team and we’re fighting for respect more than anything. The NIT is an honor to be invited to, it’s a big tournament, so you have to make the best of your opportunity.”
The Irish (17-12) turned the ball over 19 times and watched as the Crusaders (25-6) repeatedly beat them to loose balls.
“We just lost our composure,” said Chris Thomas, who led the Irish with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
The Fighting Irish trailed by 13 points early in the second half following a 23-5 run by Holy Cross, but they used a 9-2 run to close to 60-59 after a pair of 3-pointers by Thomas and a basket by Rick Cornett with 4:20 left. The Crusaders answered with five straight points and extended the lead to 10 points in the final minute.
Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said he was proud of the way his team responded to a Bucknell loss in the Patriot League title game.
“Our guys were able to wash away the disappointment and look at tonight as an opportunity for redemption,” Willard said.
It was the first postseason victory for the Crusaders since beating Southern Mississippi 56-54 in the first round of the NIT in 1981. Since then Holy Cross went 0-6 in postseason games, although it managed to throw scares into Kentucky in the 2001 NCAA tournament, Kansas in the 2002 NCAA tournament and Marquette— an eventual Final Four team—in the 2003 NCAAs.
The Irish, losers of five of their last six, lost an opening-round home NIT game for the first time in six tries.
“We haven’t had much in the tank physically the last few weeks, and that’s been evident,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
The Joyce Center wasn’t a hard place for the Crusaders to play in Tuesday, though, with only 2,517 fans on hand, the smallest crowd for a Notre Dame home game in recent memory. Thomas was upset by the small turnout, saying he and fellow senior Jordan Cornette deserved better.
“Jordan and I gave everything we had to Notre Dame. To get 5,000 fans for our last game, we didn’t want that and we didn’t deserve that,” he said. “What’s there to do in South Bend on a Tuesday night?”
The two settled for setting school career marks. Thomas had three 3-pointers, finishing his career with 302, one more than Matt Carroll (1999-03). Cornette had one blocked shot to finish with 201, one more than LaPhonso Ellis (1988-92).
Torey Thomas added 16 points for the Crusaders and Nate Lufkin had 11 points and seven rebounds. Colin Falls added 18 points for the Irish and Rob Kurz added 11. The Irish were without second-leading scorer Chris Quinn, who injured his clavicle against Rutgers.
Hamilton said the Crusaders are out to prove they are better than most people think.
“Hopefully this isn’t the end,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get to New York.”