Jan 4, 2003
By NANCY ARMOUR
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO – There were no buzzer-beating heroics for Valparaiso this time.
Greg Tonagel missed a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left, and No. 6 Notre Dame came up with the ball in the scrum afterward to seal a 55-53 victory over Valparaiso on Saturday at the United Center.
“We were very fortunate to get out of here with a win,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Matt Carroll led Notre Dame with 14, and Dan Miller and Torin Francis added 12 each. Francis also had 10 rebounds as Notre Dame won its eighth straight.
At 12-1, the Irish are off to their best start in 24 years, matching the mark of the 1978-79 squad.
But with 13 turnovers and shooting less than 44 percent, this was hardly a stellar effort for the Irish. And it certainly won’t cut it Monday night, when they visit No. 2 Pittsburgh for their Big East opener.
“This makes us a little bit hungry going into Big East play,” Carroll said. “We got the win and we’ve got to look at that. That’s the key.”
But Valparaiso made Notre Dame work for it. The Crusaders provided one of the NCAA tournament’s all-time highlights in 1998 when Bryce Drew hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to stun fourth-seeded Mississippi.
After trailing the Irish by as many as 14 points in the second half, the Crusaders were looking for another big shot.
“They have a history of rising to the occasion on afternoons like this,” Brey said.
Valpo went first to Joaquim Gomes, who had made a 3-pointer with 1:07 to play, but he was tied up. So they kicked the ball out to Tonagel, their best 3-point shooter.
Dan Miller drives to the basket during the second half.
But Miller rushed at Tonagel, trying to throw off his shot.
“He didn’t get as good a look as he wanted,” Miller said. “I didn’t think it was going.”
It didn’t, bouncing off the back of the rim.
“I knew it was long,” Tonagel said. “I was hoping to get a lucky bounce.”
Instead, the Irish wrestled the ball away from the Crusaders and ran out the clock.
Gomes led Valparaiso (5-7) with a career-high 17 points. Roberto Nieves also had a career high, scoring 11.
“We’re working twice as hard as we did, getting better every day,” Nieves said. “We’re just trying to be like Notre Dame. They’re the No. 6 team in the country and we just want to be like them.”
The Irish had a comfortable 36-26 lead at halftime, but they made just three field goals in the first 11 minutes of the second half. Only a few timely free throws kept them in front.
But the Crusaders kept chipping away. Ali Berdiel hit a 7-foot jumper to start a 7-1 run that pulled Valparaiso within 49-42 with 8:43 to play. That finally seemed to wake up the Irish. Carroll scored on a driving layup and with the Notre Dame fans chanting “Let’s go, Irish!” Miller put up a one-handed jumper from 11 feet to make it 53-42 with 6:32 left.
“This makes us a little bit hungry going into Big East play. We got the win and we’ve got to look at that. That’s the key.”Guard Matt Carroll
But Nieves scored on a layup and then made two free throws. Raitis Grafs scored on a turnaround jumper to cut it to 55-50 with 2:40 to play.
Nieves missed a 3-pointer, but the Crusaders stripped Chris Thomas at the other end and Gomes hit a 3-pointer to make it 55-53 with 1:08 to play.
Miller missed a 10-footer in front of the basket with 37 seconds, and Gomes grabbed the rebound. The Crusaders called a timeout with 25 seconds left, but Tonagel missed his long 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left and the Irish ran out the clock.
“We haven’t been in this territory for a while,” Brey said. “That’s a great win to get out of a situation like that with a two-point win.”