March 10, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey took his team to see the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” this week, not for the culture or entertainment, but so the Fighting Irish could see what teamwork looks like in action.
“I wanted them to see the best actors and chemistry and how they play off one another,” Brey said, “because that’s what I want them to do.”
They certainly did it to perfection Thursday night.
Ben Hansbrough led a brutally efficient attack with 23 points and the fourth-ranked Irish carved up one of the nation’s best defenses in an 89-51 rout of No. 25 Cincinnati – the most lopsided quarterfinal in Big East tournament history.
Carleton Scott scored 18 points and Tim Abromaitis had 17 for Notre Dame (26-5), sporting its highest national ranking since December 1980. The tournament’s No. 2 seed, winners of five straight and 12 of 13, will play third-seeded Louisville or No. 11 seed Marquette on Friday night.
“When you have a performance like that, on this stage, that’s something I’m really proud of,” Brey said. “Hopefully it’ll give us momentum to keep playing well in New York.”
Dion Dixon scored 15 points and Yancy Gates, coming off a career-best 25 in a second-round win over South Florida, managed 12 for Cincinnati. But the duo got very little help.
The Bearcats (25-8) shot just 32.8 percent from the field and were nearly as bad from the foul line, going 8 for 17. They went the final 7:25 without scoring.
“We already know what happened,” coach Mick Cronin said. “They’re tough to defend, and at some point, the fact that we couldn’t make a shot affected our defense.”
That point sure seemed to come early in the game.
Cincinnati entered allowing 58.6 points per contest, tops in the Big East and fourth-best in the nation. Notre Dame eclipsed that total with 14 minutes left, then matched the most points the Bearcats had allowed all season – in an overtime win against Providence – when it went ahead 81-51 on Hansbrough’s layup with 4:22 remaining.
By that point, Cronin had given up yelling at his players and simply sat on the bench.
“I (didn’t) think we were capable of playing ‘D’ as bad as we did tonight,” Gates said. “They made a lot of shots, a lot of shots early. They did a good job of getting us to collapse and kicking it out. They just came out ready to play.”
The Irish wound up shooting 56.1 percent, doing damage from everywhere on the Madison Square Garden floor. They went 9 of 19 from beyond the 3-point arc, were 16 of 21 from the foul line, scored 14 points off turnovers and had a 40-24 advantage in the paint.
“Notre Dame played tremendous tonight, and we obviously, well, when we were at our worst they were at their best,” Cronin said. “We got taken to the woodshed.”
Notre Dame took the lead in the opening minute and never trailed again, pushing ahead by double figures for the first time at 31-19 on Scott’s 3-pointer with 6:06 remaining in the opening half. The score was 40-30 at halftime.
Cincinnati managed to match the Irish basket for basket early in the second half and was still within 49-39 on Rashad Bishop’s jumper with 16:40 left.
But the Irish kept scoring when the Bearcats finally stopped, going on a 17-4 run that covered the next 6 minutes. Notre Dame wound up scoring on its first 11 offensive possessions, the first missed opportunity not coming until more than 7 minutes were gone. The Irish scored on their next two trips down the floor after that as the lead swelled to 68-43.
“It’s all a matter of how you prepare, and I think this group has prepared tremendously all year,” Hansbrough said. “We prepared ourselves mentally and took our mental preparation to the next level, and we did that through practice. Coach Brey did a great job pushing us.”
Cincinnati lost to the Fighting Irish in their only other meeting, on Jan. 19 in South Bend, where the Bearcats rallied from 14 down at halftime to within five in the closing minutes.
This time, Notre Dame stepped on the accelerator and kept pulling away.
“We were ‘Jersey Boys’ tonight,” Brey said.
And the stars of Broadway, too.