Nov 24, 2003
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame coach Mike Brey has been saying he wants to see tough defense. He almost saw too much Monday night.
The Irish defense shut down Northern Illinois for 30 minutes – holding the Huskies to 24.6 percent shooting – then saw the Huskies play some defense of their own in the second half before hanging on for a 74-65 victory.
The 19th-ranked Irish (1-0) didn’t clinch the win until hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the final 36 seconds.
“I thought we would have game pressure on us, and darn if they didn’t put it on us in the second half,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We may have relaxed. I don’t know why because they are a heck of a team.”
The Huskies trailed by as many as 24 points, 57-33, five minutes into the second half on a layup by Francis. But that was Notre Dame’s last basket for nearly nine minutes as the Huskies cut the lead to 61-47. The cold-shooting Huskies suddenly got hot, making 9-of-13 shots to close to 69-63 when Anthony Maestranzi made a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left.
“We kind of got a little lax,” said Chris Quinn, who had a career-high 18 points for the Irish. “It showed us that we have to play 40 minutes. We have to take care of the ball down the stretch and take better shots.”
Marcus Smallwood, who had 21 points and 18 rebounds for Northern, said the Huskies were confident at halftime they could get back in the game despite trailing by 16.
“We were going to give ourselves a chance by playing good defense,” he said.
The Irish used a tough man-to-man defense to take control early, repeatedly blocking shots and forcing air balls. Notre Dame opened with a 10-0 burst by holding the Huskies to 0-for-6 shooting.
The Huskies closed to 18-17 midway through the first half, but the Irish responded with a 19-3 run. Quinn hit three 3-pointers and a 14-foot jumper during the run and Thomas added a pair of baskets and a 3-pointer.
The Irish led 44-28 at the half.
“We really came out hard on defense,” said Torin Francis, who had 24 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots. “That was our goal and that is what helped us win.”
Northern coach Rob Judson said the Huskies didn’t play well enough to beat Notre Dame, pointing to their 4-of-17 shooting from 3-point range.
“Another couple of 3’s might have made a difference in the end. To be successful against a team like Notre Dame, you are going to have to make your 3’s and keep them away from the foul line,” he said. “We were close, but not close enough.”
The Irish improved to 4-0 in opening games under Brey. Northern Illinois fell to 2-20 all-time against ranked teams. It hasn’t beaten a ranked team since a 95-86 win over No. 19 Oral Roberts in 1973.