Jan 21, 2003
By JIM O’CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – There was only one thing on the mind of the Notre Dame players as the 16th-ranked Fighting Irish prepared to play Providence: Win a road game.
“That’s all we talked about the last few days,” coach Mike Brey said. “Go out and earn a road league win.”
Notre Dame did that Tuesday night with a 71-65 victory over the Friars, and even though it wasn’t an offensive onslaught, it gave the Irish that road win.
“I told the young guys before the game there’s nothing sweeter than a Big East road victory and you’ll feel it when you get one,” said senior Matt Carroll, who had 21 points.
Chris Thomas scored 23 points for the Fighting Irish (15-3, 3-1), who had played on another team’s court only twice this season, losing to Pittsburgh and Kentucky.
“We’ve done some good things this season but nothing is better than tonight,” Brey said. “Getting a road win with so many new guys, we needed this.”
Notre Dame struggled with most of its offense against Providence (9-7, 2-3) except for from the free throw line where it went 21-for-25, including 10-for-13 over the final 5:04.
“That’s pretty good,” Carroll, who was 9-for-11, said of the free throw shooting. “That’s enough to give us a good chance to win every game.”
Ryan Gomes had 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Friars, who stayed close despite opening the second half by making two of their first 17 shots from the field.
“We were just playing off pure energy,” Gomes said. “We made some mistakes tonight. We fouled them way, way away from the basket and they’re good foul shooters.”
Carroll hit a 3-pointer to make it 59-52 with 5:52 left and his two free throws with 5:04 to play made it 61-54. Freshman point guard Donnie McGrath scored the last four points of Providence’s 8-3 run that made it 64-62 with 2:28 left, but that was as close as the Friars would get. Providence has lost three of four.
Thomas made two free throws with 2:21 to play and after a miss by Providence’s Marcus Douthit, Jordan Cornette scored down low with 1:27 left, Notre Dame’s only field goal over the final 5:50. The Irish started spreading the floor and running down the shot clock with nine minutes to play.
Thomas, who had six assists, was coming off a 4-for-17 shooting effort in the loss to Kentucky and he was 8-for-17 against the Friars, including 1-for-7 from 3-point range as the Irish were only 4-for-19 from beyond the arc.
“Every open shot we had early was a 3 and we’re not going to take open shots just because they’re 3s,” said Thomas, who was 6-for-6 from the free throw line. “Matt made some big free throws and I think we showed poise and controlled the tempo. This was another learning experience for us and we just have to take this feeling to the next game.”
That will be another road game, Saturday at Boston College, the Irish’s third straight.
“Our problem had been playing too fast on the road when the crowd would get into it and we did it again tonight,” Brey said. “I though we were pretty sound and didn’t get rattled and that goes to your leadership. That’s what we talked about since we got back from Lexington.”
Torin Francis added 13 points for Notre Dame, which shot 42.6 percent (23-for-54).
McGrath had 16 points for the Friars, who were 22-for-57 from the field (38.6 percent).
“We had a lot of opportunities around the basket. We just didn’t do a good job finishing. The ball didn’t roll right around the basket for us,” Providence coach Tim Welsh said. “The effort was there. We just got caught up in the emotion of the game. We played too wild on defense.”
That was what sent Notre Dame to the line with some of the fouls anywhere from 45 to 90 feet from the basket.
“Those are areas where you don’t need to foul,” Welsh said. “When he’s 35 feet from the basket, there’s no need to get up in their chest.”