March 8, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Chris Thomas willed the 16th-ranked Irish to an 86-80 victory over Georgetown on Saturday.
Despite committing a season-high 10 turnovers, the sophomore guard almost single-handedly broke the Hoyas’ tenacious pressure and finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Notre Dame snapped a three-game losing streak.
“Chris Thomas was simply spectacular controlling the game and defending,” Brey said. “He refused to let us lose.”
Thomas was 9-for-16 from the field, including 3-for-8 from 3-point range, and 8-of-9 from the free throw line, including four after Georgetown pulled to 82-80 on Tony Bethel’s free throw with 20 seconds left.
“There was a lot of contact and I made some bad decisions,” Thomas said. “But when you play a team like Georgetown, it’s hard to keep turnovers down. It seemed like they had seven or eight guys out there on the court at a time.”
Brey, however, kept calling Thomas’ number.
“When you have a special talent, you don’t want to overcoach him,” he said of Thomas. “He willed us to victory. His look in his eyes kept us confident.”
Notre Dame (22-8, 10-6 Big East) completed its best regular season since 1988-89 with its fourth straight win over Georgetown (14-13, 6-10).
Although Georgetown’s pressure forced Notre Dame to commit a season-high 22 turnovers, the Hoyas managed to convert them into only 17 points.
“We got 22 offensive rebounds and forced 20 turnovers and didn’t make some of the decisions that you need to make to win a ballgame like that,” Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said. “Notre Dame is too good to just hustle. You have to hustle and you have to make smart plays and good decisions – not just at the end of the game but during the course of the game.”
Mike Sweetney led Georgetown with 26 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Gerald Riley scored 21 points for the Hoyas and Bethel had 17 points and five assists.
We believed we were going to win even though their pressure rattled us a little bit. We got a little bit of our swagger back and we need that before we go to New York.Head coach Mike Brey
“Clearly the effort was there,” Esherick said. “But in order to win big and beat a team that’s nationally ranked, you can’t just play hard. You have to make decisions that are grounded in thought.
“We just made too many mental mistakes.”
Dan Miller finished with 17 points for Notre Dame, and Matt Carroll added 15. Torin Francis had eight rebounds for the Irish.
Thomas gave Notre Dame a 61-55 lead with a 3-pointer from the corner followed by a three-point play with 9:57 remaining. He then gave the Irish a 70-60 lead on a 3-pointer with 6:54 left. Miller’s 3-pointer gave Notre Dame a 75-62 lead with 5:42 remaining.
The Hoyas went on a 10-2 run, capped by Riley’s jumper with 40 seconds remaining, to cut the Irish’s lead to 81-79.
After Thomas’ two free throws put Notre Dame ahead 84-80 with 16 seconds left, Riley missed an uncontested two-handed dunk with 10 seconds remaining to end Georgetown’s comeback. Thomas then added two free throws.
“We were close; we made a great comeback and cut it to two,” Esherick said. “We had a shot at this game and we let it get away. We’ve had a lot of practice at letting games get away.”
Added Sweetney: “We showed a lot of heart at the end of the game but we let it get away.”
Georgetown took its biggest lead of the second half, 49-44, on consecutive 3-pointers by Bethel and Riley with 14:32 left.
The teams played six periods of overtime in their previous two meetings, including a Big East-record four overtimes on Feb. 9, 2002, won 116-111 by the Irish. Earlier this season, Notre Dame prevailed 93-92 in double-overtime at South Bend.
Both teams head for the Big East tournament next week at Madison Square Garden.
“We believed we were going to win even though their pressure rattled us a little bit,” Brey said. “We got a little bit of our swagger back and we need that before we go to New York.”