March 16, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Irish coach Matt Doherty made it clear to his team that they had to shake the funk.
All week he dwelt on the fact that Notre Dame missed out on a bid to the NCAA tournament. He also noticed his team was doing the exact same thing.
On Tuesday night when Doherty watched Vanderbilt lose in the opening round of the NIT, he sounded the alarm.
“Coach talked about how we didn’t want to have the same let down that Vanderbilt had,” sophomore Troy Murphy said. “They had a huge disappointment on Sunday watching the selection show. Then their season is done. He wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to us.”
The alarm sounded just in time to wake the Irish from a nightmarish end.
On Wednesday night, Doherty’s squad came out of the locker room fired up and ready to prove to the NCAA selection committee they had made a mistake.
With 17 minutes remaining in the game, the Irish gained the lead and never looked back. They advanced to the second round with 75-65 win over Michigan.
While Murphy’s 32 points tremendously aided the Irish, the play of freshman Matt Carroll and sophomore David Graves really keyed the win. The two emerged from the locker room at halftime with inspired play.
Carroll tied the game for the Irish at 41 with a big three. He followed it up with another huge 3-pointer to give the Irish the lead with a little under 16 minutes remaining.
Graves managed to grab 12 rebounds and score nine points. He also registered two assists and had two steals.
“I thought that in the first half that he was a little sluggish,” Doherty said about Graves. “I thought that he was more energized in the second half. If he did get 12 rebounds then he had a heck of a night rebounding the basketball. It was a good team effort.”
It didn’t hurt the Irish either that Murphy turned in one of his best scoring performances of the evening with 32 points. While the Wolverines could not stop the baskets from falling, they did shut him down on the boards. Murphy had only two rebounds in the contest, which is his poorest showing of the season.
“I can’t believe Troy only got two rebounds,” Doherty said. “That is amazing.”
Notre Dame managed to slow Michigan star, LaVell Blanchard. The Big Ten Rookie of the Year finished the game with 14 points and four rebounds.
“I felt that Jere [Macura] did a good job on Blanchard,” Doherty said. “Then he came back and blocked a shot. It gave us a little spark.”
The final minute of the game proved to be a nasty one for the two teams with each realizing that this could be the final game of the season. With 30 seconds remaining, Notre Dame’s Harold Swanagan went down hard on the floor. He appeared to get his right leg caught underneath him as he hit the floor. Doherty stated that Swanagan injured his knee and his ankle in the contest. Freshman Ivan Kartelo split his lip open just a few seconds later.
Despite the injuries and Murphy fouling out with a little under a minute to play, Notre Dame clinched its first postseason tournament win in three years.
“We were excited about the game because we understood that if we lost this would be our last game,” Graves said. “There would be no more chances and that was a big incentive for us to go out and play hard.”
Notre Dame showed its tenacity by pulling out a tough win in the first round. Up next for them is Xavier. The two teams will meet on Monday night at the Joyce Center.