March 31, 2000
NEW YORK – Thursday night marked the one-year anniversary of Irish head coach Matt Doherty’s hiring.
It was a bittersweet one.
Doherty spent his anniversary congratulating Wake Forest on winning its first NIT championship in the history of the school.
Doherty’s squad could not bring Notre Dame its first NIT title in the school’s fourth appearance. The Irish trailed the entire game and could not rally. Wake Forest went on to win, 71-61.
From the get go, it seemed like Thursday night was not meant for the Irish. Wake suffocated the inside game for Big East Player of the Year Troy Murphy and his teammates. The Deacons forced the Irish to go outside where nothing would fall.
Doherty had a rough go of it from the sidelines. In the first half, he seemed disgusted with some of the calls the referees missed. With 1:59 remaining, the referees had enough and assessed him with a technical foul.
“Coach is our leader, our emotional leader,” Murphy said. “I think he got us going, he got us on the run when we weren’t playing with a lot of emotion. With Coach doing that he got us really fired up and into the game.”
Instead of hurting his team, the foul inspired them. From that point, the Irish finished the game with an 8-0 run on the Deacons. They went into the locker room down by nine at 28-37.
Wake quickly rebuilt its lead in the second half as the Notre Dame’s offensive woes continued. The Irish did not score until five minutes of play had elapsed in the second half.
“You’ve got to score to win and you gain momentum by making plays and scoring baskets,” Murphy said. “If you can’t score for a long time, you kill your momentum. Credit their defense. They were tough and hit some shots. Can’t have stretches where you don’t score against good teams. We tried to do that tonight and came up short.”
Wake Forest sealed the game with its play behind the arc. Every time Doherty’s squad attempted to rally, Wake guard Robert O’Kelley sunk a three. O’Kelley and Craig Dawson drilled home nine 3-pointers between them. The deacons shot 36 percent from the 3-point line.
O’Kelley earned NIT MVP honors for his inspired play against the Irish. The NIT named Wake’s Josh Howard to the all-tournament team.
“Credit O’Kelley. He’s a competitive kid,” Doherty said. “He’s struggled shooting the ball and I was hoping he would struggle one more time, but obviously he did not. He really came alive in the second half and hit a couple shots that really hurt us.”
Murphy and Graves earned all-tournament team honors as well. Murphy had a game high of 20 points and six rebounds. Graves finished with 17 points and six rebounds.
The Irish concluded the second longest basketball season in the history of the school with 22 wins and 15 losses. The 37 games mark the second most games for an Irish team since the 1908-09 squad.
While Irish head coach Matt Doherty did not celebrate his anniversary in the fashion he wished. Notre Dame fans could not help but smile despite the loss, for they realize how far the program has come in a matter of 12 months.