March 28, 2000
* Coach Doherty
* T. Murphy
* D. Graves
By DENNIS WASZAK JR.
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Notre Dame came into the National Invitation Tournament focused on winning it. Now, there’s just one team standing in its way.
Troy Murphy had 18 points and eight rebounds to lead the Irish to a 73-52 rout of Penn State in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Notre Dame (22-14) will play Wake Forest (21-14) in Thursday night’s final. The Demon Deacons beat North Carolina State 62-59 in overtime in the other semifinal.
It will be the fourth NIT final appearance for the Irish, and first since losing to Virginia in 1992.
“These kids want to win,” Notre Dame coach Matt Doherty said. “We’ve talked all tournament about proving people wrong, and we’re glad we have this opportunity here with the NIT to give us the opportunity to play for a championship.”
Matt Carroll added 13 points, and backup Jere Macura 12 points and seven rebounds for the Irish, who shot 53 percent on 25-for-47 shooting.
“The last five games, coach really stressed for us to come out and be the aggressor,” Murphy said. “And right from the start, we wanted to be the aggressor, and I think we did a good job of that.”
Joe Crispin led Penn State (18-16) with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-9 from 3-point range. Jarrett Stephens added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Nittany Lions, who had more turnovers (20) than field goals (18-of-54).
“We shot the ball very poorly,” Penn State coach Jerry Dunn said. “It wouldn’t have mattered who we played tonight. When you shoot that poorly, you’re not going to win the basketball game.”
The Irish, stung when they weren’t given an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament, have plowed through the NIT in convincing fashion. Notre Dame beat Michigan 75-65, Xavier 76-64 and Brigham Young 64-52, all at home, to get to New York City.
“No one expected us to be here,” Notre Dame’s David Graves said. “No one expected us to be in the postseason, and it’s a relief to prove everyone wrong.”
Penn State trailed by double digits the entire second half, and Notre Dame led by as many as 22 when Murphy’s slam dunk at 2:25 gave the Irish a 70-48 lead.
“Tonight we showed how we can spread our offense out,” Murphy said. “They couldn’t focus on any one of our players.”
Murphy shot 6-for-11 from the field and came out with 1:33 left in the game to a loud ovation.
“I like playing here,” he said. I’m comfortable here.”
Once Jimmy Dillon started things for Notre Dame with a 17-footer 35 seconds into the game, the Irish never looked back.
After the Irish took a 15-2 lead at 14:04 on Martin Inglesby’s 3-pointer, Jon Crispin finally got the Nittany Lions back on the board with a 3 of his own.
“I think Jimmy’s shot said it all,” Graves said. “We were coming from so many directions, and they just couldn’t stop us.”
Penn State chipped at Notre Dame’s lead with an 8-0 run and got it down to four points on Stephens’ layup with 2:28 left in the half. But the Irish took advantage of turnovers and went on an 11-0 run to build the lead to 38-23 at halftime.
“I think your offense fuels your defense,” Dunn said. “It certainly gives you momentum. But I think when we were struggling to score, we lost a little bit of that surge on defense.”
The game marked the teams’ first meeting since Penn State beat the Irish in the 1954 NCAA tournament.