March 23, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – If the Cougars and their fans learned anything after Wednesday’s game, it might be to watch their words.
“I was a little upset with the comments that were made,” sophomore Troy Murphy said after his team’s 64-52 victory.
Murphy referred to the comments that the NIT had paved the way for the Irish. Some controversy surrounded the game about whether or not the Irish truly deserved another home game.
“I think that we deserved three home games,” Notre Dame head coach Matt Doherty said. “If you had to seed this tournament don’t you think that we would be one of the top seeds.”
All season long, BYU drew a larger crowd at home than Notre Dame did. Then the theory arose that South Bend was on the way to New York for the Cougars. Madison Square Garden will host the NIT semifinals and finals.
“That is the kind of stuff that when you read it, you get excited,” Murphy said. “You want to play. I don’t know what they were trying to do. Maybe it gets them excited but it also gets the other team going.”
While Murphy believed the comments inspired his play, to the average fan it may not have seemed very noticeable. Wednesday night’s game hardly proved to be an exhibition of Notre Dame’s best play.
The first half started out rocky for the Irish as the lead changed hands back and fourth. When the teams entered the locker room, Notre Dame led by only six points, 38-32.
“We knew this was not going to be an easy game,” forward David Graves said. “We knew BYU was going to get down on us defensively. They shoot the ball very well. It was an ugly game, definitely not one of our prettiest games. We found a way to survive by hitting free throws at the end.”
Notre Dame began to put the nails in the coffin with a little over six minutes to play. Graves buried a shot, which ignited the crowd with 6:16 left to play, extending the lead to eight points. A couple of possessions later, Graves put a vicious fake on Terrell Lyday, scoring two. The victory became apparent with freshman Mike Monserez drilled a three on the very next possession, lifting the Irish to a 13 point lead at 60-47.
“Mike is a smart player and a good ball handler,” Doherty said. “I trust him out there. I just decided to leave him in there because I thought he was doing a good job.”
Monserez logged 14 minutes in the third round game. He took a single shot in the contest, which turned out to be the pivotal one for the Irish.
Murphy led the Irish with 19 points and nine rebounds. The sophomore shot a perfect 9-for-9 from the foul line. The forward teamed up again with Graves to provide a double-threat. Graves shot perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc. He finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Senior Jimmy Dillon set a new record for most steals in a season. With his four steals against the Cougars, he surpassed former Irish great David Rivers. Rivers set the previous record at 61 back in the 1984-85 season. Currently, Dillon has 64 steals with two games still left to play.
“I don’t know the politics behind the NIT, but would this have been a different game at BYU?” Cougar coach Steve Cleveland said. “Of course it would have. Everybody plays better at home.”
No doubt about it. Notre Dame plays much better at home than on the road. The Irish proved no different last night as they fed off the 8,845 who turned out. The students came to cheer and wish the Irish well in the future.
At the end of the game, only Doherty and Murphy remained on the court for a postgame interview. The students aired their final wish, chanting, “Two more years! Two more years!”
When asked if he would grant their wish, the All-American said, “I don’t know.”