Irish look for redemption with solid NIT performance
Associate Sports Editor
With the Irish shut out of an NCAA tournament bid, Matt Doherty's club has united around the common goal of earning redemption by winning the National Invitation Tournament.
They've put their `A' game faces on and the Irish appear well on their way back to playing in Madison Square Garden, after beating the Michigan Wolverines 75-65 in the first round and the Xavier Musketeers 76-64 in the second round.
"We want to prove the Committee wrong by not letting us into the NCAA tournament," sophomore forward Harold Swanagan said. "We're out to prove something. That's our mindset every game. We're going to go out there and play our hardest and show everybody that we could have played in the Tournament. They made a mistake."
Getting a couple or five victories in the NIT would surely show the selection committee that the Irish were worthy of another look.
"We feel like we're out here with something to prove," Murphy said. "We want to prove to the NCAA tournament that we belonged in there, and maybe make them think twice about what they did. Xavier was a team that was a bubble team, and we beat them. We're just trying to show people that we should have gotten in."
Notre Dame shook off the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament by focusing on extending their season in the NIT.
"Everyone would like to go to the NCAA tournament," Doherty said. "But the fact that we're here, we're going to make the most of it. Our kids shook that NCAA deal off and were able to come out and beat Michigan and Xavier."
The Irish aren't content to put away their uniforms for the season just yet. Although they've already posted more wins than any Notre Dame team in the past 10 years, they want to keep improving their record.
"Most people, I think, if we lost today, would say, boy you had a good year," Doherty said. "You threatened to make the NCAA tournament. You made the NIT. You beat Michigan and lose today, it's okay. And I told them at pre-game meal — I don't want that thought creeping into your head.
"Yeah, people feel you had a good year, but I want more," Doherty said. "I want 20 wins. I want to win on national TV. I want to keep playing. I want to practice tomorrow. We had a little gut check there, and our kids came through.."
Doherty got his 20 wins with the victory over Xavier, and now he's looking for No. 21.
The Irish are out there playing so they wind up with no regrets come the end of the season. They're going after every rebound and playing defense like their life is on the line.
"The kids, they're tough," Doherty said. "They compete. Did you see them diving on loose balls? I mean, that was fun. Matt Carroll, Jimmy Dillon, David Graves. I just think they're a tough group of kids."
Sophomore David Graves must have been starving for a little redemption Monday. He led the fiery Notre Dame effort early, scoring 21 of his 24 points in the first half, and fighting for nine rebounds in the victory.
Guards Jimmy Dillon and Matt Carroll were all over the floor for the Irish, diving for every loose ball and some that weren't.
The other two Irish starters, Murphy and Swanagan, played substantial minutes despite recent injuries.
Swanagan scrambled for seven rebounds and scored seven points in 26 minutes of play after hurting his knee in the Michigan game. Murphy sprained an ankle in practice Sunday, but battled back to score 21 points and nine rebounds in a physical 36 minutes on the court.
Nobody on Notre Dame's men's basketball squad wants to close out the season without an NIT Championship banner to hang in the Joyce Center. But it won't be a cakewalk getting there.
"Just because we're on the bubble doesn't grant us the right to win this NIT," Doherty said. "The NIT's pretty strong and probably stronger this year than it's ever been because teams like Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Villanova, didn't get into the NCAA tournament. I don't want the guys to have any regrets."
Three more wins, and they won't.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Tuesday, March 21, 2000