March 12, 2002

From the Associated Press

GAME: No. 9 Charlotte (18-11) vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (21-10).
REGIONAL: South, First Round.
TIME: Thursday, 7:40 p.m. EST.
SITE: The BI-LO Center, Greenville, S.C.

If Notre Dame was upset when Troy Murphy left a year early, it’s not anymore.

Back in the tournament after losing their All-American to the NBA last season, the Irish face Charlotte in the first round of the South regional on Thursday.

Murphy led the Irish in scoring last season, when the Irish ended a 10-year absence from the tournament. Notre Dame advanced to the second round after an 83-71 victory over Xavier. But Murphy bolted at the end of the 2000-01 campaign after three seasons with Notre Dame.

The Irish have fared well without the two-time Big East player of the year. They finished second in the Big East West Division this season and advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time in school history. Notre Dame lost to eventual Big East champion Connecticut in that round.

“It was a big motivation for us, bringing this program back to where it needs to be,” Notre Dame forward David Graves said. “We do have good basketball players here. It’s not just a shadow of Troy Murphy and 12 dwarves. We have good players here.”

The Irish have a starting lineup with four seniors, who all average in double figures. Ryan Humphrey leads the Irish in scoring (18.9) and rebounds (10.6) and has recorded double doubles in his last nine games.

“I remember telling the seniors, ‘I’m really excited for you. Troy is gone and you have a little more of the spotlight. Now you have to back it up,”‘ second-year Irish coach Mike Brey said.

The Irish are facing the 49ers for the first time but went 1-0 against the Conference USA this season, having beaten DePaul 82-55 on Dec. 1. Overall, Notre Dame is 151-103 against teams from that conference.

Charlotte is making its second straight appearance and fifth in the last six years. This is the ninth tournament appearance overall for the 49ers, who defeated Tennessee in the first round last season before losing to Illinois in the next round.

The 49ers are looking to rebound after their 71-55 loss to Cincinnati in their conference semifinals.

“We’re very excited to be back in the tournament,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “It’s interesting that we’re in the 8-9 game, once again, but I think the No. 9 seed is a sign of respect for the fact that we played a really difficult schedule.”

“I’m most happy for our three seniors, who really took our loss to heart. I’m thrilled that they still have more basketball to play.”

Charlotte has reached the second round of the tournament in each of its last four trips.

The winner of this contest will meet the winner of the matchup between No. 1 seed Duke (29-3) and No. 9 seed Winthrop (19-11) on Saturday.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Charlotte – F Cam Stephens (13.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg), F Curtis Nash (10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg), C Jermaine Williams (4.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Jobey Thomas (18.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G Demon Brown (11.3 ppg, 3.9 apg). Notre Dame – F Ryan Humphrey (18.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg), F David Graves (14.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg), C Harold Swanagan (7.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg), G Matt Carroll (13.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Chris Thomas (16.0 ppg, 7.5 apg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Charlotte – At-large bid, Conference USA. Notre Dame – At-large bid, Big East.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Charlotte – 7-9, 8 years. Notre Dame, 26-29, 25 years.