Irish look to snap three-game losing streak
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Assistant Sports Editor
The men's basketball team comes home to the Joyce Center to face the Vanderbilt Commodores with the goal of ending a three-game losing streak.
"Our No. 1 goal is to start establishing our winning streak again," senior guard Jimmy Dillon said. "We've played some tough competition."
The Irish, under first-year head coach Matt Doherty, began the season 3-0 for the first time in 11 years. They opened with a win over then-No. 4 Ohio State in the first round of the Pre-Season NIT.
However, they dropped their next three contests to ranked foes Arizona, Maryland and Indiana, all on the road.
"We don't want to get into a rut where we're complacent with losing," senior forward Todd Palmer said. "We want to learn from a loss, but we don't want to expect to lose."
Notre Dame dropped behind early in its three losses, leaving too much ground to make up. The team lost to Maryland by five and to Indiana in overtime.
"I think it built more character on our team," Dillon said. "Last year we kind of questioned whether we would have hung with a Maryland or an Indiana."
Vanderbilt is undefeated and has won at home against Belmont, Tennessee-Martin and East Tennessee State. If the Commodores defeat the Irish, they will become only the second Vandy squad since 1986 to open the year 4-0.
While the Commodores have yet to lose a game, they haven't faced a ranked opponent. The Irish, on the other hand, have played four top-25 teams.
One challenge for the Irish will be containing forward Dan Langhi, who was named a pre-season All-American. The 6-foot-11 Langhi is averaging 19.7 points per game this season, and scored 33 points in the Commodores' 68-63 victory over the Irish in 1998.
"He's got a lot of skill levels," Palmer said. "Whoever matches up against him is going to have a tough time."
The Irish have 6-foot-10 sophomore Troy Murphy to counter Langhi at the dominant big man position. Murphy leads Notre Dame with 26 points per game, and has had five double doubles so far this year.
Other players down low for Notre Dame are forwards David Graves and Harold Swanagan, along with Palmer and freshman Jere Macura off the bench.
Macura, currently being treated for vertigo according to Palmer, should return in shape by tip-off.
"He's a tough kid," Palmer said. "He should be all right."
Vanderbilt also has a talented back court duo in senior guards Atiba Prater and James Strong. Strong is the team's second leading scorer and averages 4.3 assists per game, while Prater leads Vanderbilt in assists.
Dillon and Martin Ingelsby are the starting guards for Notre Dame, while freshman reserve Matt Carroll has a soft shooting touch.
Vanderbilt also has new head coach Kevin Stallings. Although the squad only qualified for the NCAA tournament once in the past six years, Stallings may turn that record around. As a collegiate player and a coach, Stalling's teams have made post-season appearances 18 of 21 years.
"Coach talked about breaking the game up into four 10-minute quarters," Dillon said. "We're hoping to put Vandy back on their heels and set the tempo early on. We're going to set our game plan and stick to it no matter what Vanderbilt throws at us."
All Sports Stories for Friday, December 3, 1999