Men's Basketball: Irish snap losing streak
By: KERRY SMITH
Chris Thomas broke out of a two-game slump to lead the Irish to an 89-76 routing of West Virginia Wednesday at the Joyce Center.
After shooting a dismal 3-25 in Notre Dame's two previous outings, the point guard scored a game-high 26 points and dished out 12 assists, as the Irish snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to an 18-8 overall record and 8-6 in the Big East.
Irish head coach Mike Brey pumped his freshman up before the outing with a highlight reel from some of Thomas' past games.
"It showed him attacking. It was the Chris we have seen for 95 percent of the season and I think he responded to that," Brey said. "He knew there was a sense of urgency for us."
Brey also relayed that sense of urgency to his senior captains before the game, and they responded, as David Graves scored 20 points, Ryan Humphrey added 19 and Harold Swanagan, still nursing an injury, logged quality minutes on the court.
"[Brey] told us how many games we have left at the most and we want to make the most out of every game," Humphrey said. "I don't want to go out with a bad memory or bad taste in my mouth."
Brey also hinted that it was time for the seniors to take the team by the reigns with his decision to reinsert Graves into the starting lineup for the first time since Notre Dame's loss to Georgetown on Jan. 21.
"I didn't want there to be any doubt. I just wanted to come out and play well," Graves said. "This needs to be the lineup. I've invested a lot of time in bringing this program back to where it needs to be."
Coming into Wednesday's contest, the Irish knew where they needed to be: back in the winning column.
And the Irish had little trouble making that happen against a struggling Mountaineer team.
"We were real solid tonight," Thomas said. "Our backs were against the wall and to come out and play so well speaks so highly of our coach and three captains."
Notre Dame jumped out to a 12-point lead 14 minutes into the half before the Mountaineers whittled the deficit to just five.
But quick transitioning on offense and strong defense from the Irish gave the home team a 10-point edge at the half.
"I think we've found success when we run the ball," Thomas said. "We're so much more dangerous when we run."
Bolstered by five quick points from Graves, the Irish ran out to a 15-point lead just minutes into the second half, and pushed it up to 25 points on a Thomas reverse dunk with six minutes left to play.
The Mountaineers, who own an 8-17 overall and 1-12 conference record struggled all night on both ends of the court.
Defensively, the Mountaineers had trouble slowing down the Irish run.
"The problem with the team this year is the problem we had tonight: we just don't guard," Catlett said. "We have not been able to improve. [The Irish] beat us at — zone and man."
Freshman guards Jonathan Hargett and Drew Schifino led the Mountaineers with 15 points a piece, but interim coach Drew Catlett was not pleased with Hargett's performance in his match-up with Thomas.
"Jon thinks he can score and play against anybody," Catlett said. "One problem Jon has had all year is that it's five-on-five. He needs to get his teammates involved. I think he got caught up in [the match-up with Thomas]."
The win against the Mountaineers marks the second time Notre Dame has topped West Virginia this season.
The Irish are back in action Saturday when they travel to Miami in a key Big East battle.
Irish guard Matt Carroll suffered a foot strain in the first half of play, falling after a 3-point attempt. The junior did not play for the remainder of the game and according to Brey is "questionable" for Saturday's contest in Miami.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, February 21, 2002