Notre Dame BIG EAST Tournament Central

Once again, UND.com will be blogging from the 2011 BIG EAST Men’s Basketball Championship, which runs from March 8-12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Please check back for frequent updates (posts will be in reverse chronological order) on the men’s basketball team’s visit to the Big Apple.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Madison Square Garden was abuzz early for the Connecticut-Syracuse opener of the semifinal doubleheader – but other than a close score, cheering was hard to come by in the opening half as both squads shot a paltry 27 perfect from the field over the first 20 minutes. Then both teams heated up to make 51 percent of their shots in the second half – and the Huskies finally prevailed 76-71 in overtime behind Kemba Walker’s 33 points and 12 rebounds. Connecticut now has a chance to become the first team ever to win five straight games in five days in any conference postseason tournament.

Meanwhile, it’s now 9:40 p.m. as a moment of silence is observed in recognition of the tragic events in Japan – followed by the playing of “God Bless America.”

In the house tonight at MSG are former President Bill Clinton along with golfing great Nick Faldo (he’s right behind the Irish bench). Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., is back to see the Irish play a second straight night.

It’s Notre Dame’s fourth time to the semifinals – and a chance to win at that level for the first time. Louisville is only in its sixth BIG EAST event – having won it all in 2009 as the top seed.

Ty Nash has two layups and Scott Martin two threes and the Irish are up 12-7 at the first media timeout. Notre Dame hits six of its first eight shots. Nash has seven of the first 17 for the Irish and Rick Pitino calls a timeout. Like last night Nash has two early fouls, this time by 12:46. At 10:52 Peyton Siva’s three-point play puts the Cards up 21-20. After an Irish turnover Mike Breycalls timeout and Tim Abromaitis’ hoop on goaltending gets the Irish back on top. By the 7:46 media timeout the Irish lead 28-23 after a steal and score by Ben Hansbrough, a nifty Martin dunk and an Abromaitis jumper. At 6:12 the PA announcer says Tyler Hansbrough (instead of Ben) re-enters the game. Jack Cooley’s rebound slam puts Notre Dame up 38-27 and forces another Cardinal timeout at 3:58. Martin’s late three makes it 46-30. And the Irish finish with a 46-32 halftime edge.

Martin, who averages 9.5 points, has 13 in the first 20 minutes and Abromaitis has 12. The Irish shot 56.7 percent from the field – to 38.2 for Louisville. And even though Hansbrough is one of eight shooting (he did have five assists), he drew some late fouls and nailed five of six free throws to help advance the Notre Dame lead late in the opening half. Meanwhile, Siva leads the Cards with eight points but he also has three fouls. Cooley leads all rebounders with four off the Irish bench.

In the second half the Irish don’t get a hoop until the 15:57 mark after the Cards cut the lead to seven, and later to four at 52-48. At 13:03 the Cards’ Preston Knowles gets his fourth foul and has to sit. Then Siva gets his fourth at the 12:26 stop. Eight of Notre Dame’s first 15 second-half points come on free throws. Then Terrence Jennings is hit with his fourth foul at 9:30 – and Nash makes it seven of eight free throws just in the second half. Louisville pulls back to within seven and, after an Irish turnover, Mike Brey calls timeout.

Kyle Kuric’s three with a little more than four cuts it to 66-64 for the Irish. Then Siva’s fifth foul comes at 3:53 and he departs as the top Card scorer so far with 15. Hansbrough misses two free throws, Louisville has a chance to tie or take the lead but misses a couple of shots and Brey calls another timeout with 3:01, as it’s Irish ball. Knowles has free throws at 2:47 and ties the game. After two Abromaitis free throws Nash fouls out at 2:31. Louisville ties it again, Martin misses a long jumper and Pitino calls a timeout at 2:01 with the ball. Knowles tips in his own miss and the Cards lead 70-68 beforeMartin ties it on a drive to the rim. Knowles and Carleton Scott trade hoops – then the Cards miss and Hansbrough misses late. So the two teams go to overtime for the second time in a month and two days.

Two straight turnovers doom the Irish early in the extra session andLouisville leads by three twice. Knowles misses a long one and the Irish have the ball down 80-77 at 1:08 after calling a timeout – but Hansbrough can’t connect and Louisville finally wins 83-77 past midnight. The Irish have only five second-half field goals (not counting OT) as the Irish and Cards went to overtime for the sixth time in 10 games. Martin ends up with a career-high 21 points to go with eight rebounds.

Thursday, March 10, 2011
It’s been a rainy, windy day in New York City. It began with the site of Irish guard Ben Hansbrough leaving the Irish team hotel a little after eight in the morning for his daily personal workout.

It continued when you grabbed a copy of any of the New York newspapers and found them splattered with coverage of the late-game officiating controversy from Wednesday’s St. John’s-Rutgers game.

And it continued earlier in the afternoon with Connecticut’s Kemba Walker personally eliminating the BIG EAST Tournament number-one seed Pittsburgh with a step-back jumper at the buzzer to beat the Panthers in the noon offering at MSG. Not an easy day for top seeds as Big 12 headliner Kansas escaped with a one-point win over Oklahoma State.

Meanwhile the Irish come in with a 3-4 mark in previous quarterfinals – with wins over St. John’s as a #2 seed in 2002, over Syracuse in 2007 as a #4 seed and last year as a #7 seed over Pittsburgh.

Looking for two hot teams? Notre Dame comes in having won 11 of its last 12 (only one loss since Jan. 16). Cincinnati comes in having won six of seven. Both teams already have 25 wins – and this is only a quarterfinal game of this event. Of their dozen combined losses, all came at the hands of teams expected to make the NCAA bracket.

Among those in the audience tonight is Irish head football coach Brian Kelly.

Check out the New York Times web site – former Irish basketball forward Zach Hillesland is filing regularly for the Times on the BIG EAST Tournament.

Notre Dame, playing in its 16th BIG EAST postseason event, and Cincinnati, in its fifth, face off for the first time in this MSG setting.

The evening session is the Midwest portion of the MSG bracket with Notre Dame, Marquette, Louisville and Cincinnati involved.

Ben Hansbrough misses his first two long jumpers but when his three connects it’s 8-3 Irish. Then a Tim Abromaitis trey makes it 11-3 and forces Bearcat coach Mick Cronin to call a timeout at 14:33. Notre Dame hits a hiccup when Ty Nash picks up his secondfoul on a charge at 13:52, so Jack Cooley enters the lineup. Then Eric Atkins appears at 12:55. Midway through the opening half it’s 20-10 Irish. By the eight-minute mark Abromaitis has hit four threes.

At the 7:47 media timeout, Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick participated in a midcourt ceremonywith Oppenheimer Funds executives in honor of Mike Brey’s BIG EAST coach of the year award. Swarbrick was recipient of a $10,000 check for the Notre Dame scholarship fund.

At the 2:42 mark the Irish are seven of 13 from beyond the arc. It’s 40-30 at half for the Irish – and Notre Dame has eight three-point goals compared to six two-pointers.

Then Hansbrough had six points in the first four minutes of the second half – and a Scott Martin jumper forced Cincinnati to take a timeout at the 15:16 juncture with the Irish up 55-39.

At the 14:07 mark officials called security and had a fan under the Cincinnati basket ejected. The Irish were in the bonus by the 13:25 stoppage. The Bearcats had to call for another break at 11:22 after an Eric Atkins lay-in made it 66-43. By 4:31 (another Cincinnati timeout), Notre Dame had built the lead to 79-51. By the 3:57 media timeout Irish rookie Alex Dragicevich replaced Hansbrough who departed with 23 points. And it was all over at that point.

The Irish were so efficient they did not commit a turnover in the second half.