Indiana beats Notre Dame 76-75 behide Coverdale's foul-shooting down the stretch
By JOE LICANDRO
Last year, Tom Coverdale hurt Notre Dame by scoring 30 points, leading Indiana to an 86-78 victory. This year it was Coverdale's automatic free throw shooting at the end of the game along with sophomore teammate Jared Jeffries' game-high 28 points that enabled the Hoosiers to narrowly escape with a 76-75 victory over the Irish.
"I would describe this as the best game of my career," said Jeffries. "I really pulled it together offensively tonight. I think playing in front of a home crowd helped me a lot."
Despite great individual efforts from freshman Chris Thomas and seniors Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan, the Irish were unable to avenge last year's defeat to the Hoosiers. Thomas led the Irish with 24 points while Humphrey and Swanagan scored 23 and 17 respectively.
Thomas was poised through the entire game, not allowing the boisterous Assembly Hall crowd to affect his play, while Humphrey and Swanagan were critical to the second half Irish comeback.
"Chris Thomas didn't look like a freshman out there," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "Swanagan was amazingly efficient on the offensive end. Ryan Humphrey continued to play well. He's taking a lot of pride leading this team. We just came up a little short at the end of the game."
Playing in front of a packed house at Assembly Hall in front of 17,000 screaming Indiana fans created a very hostile environment that the Irish had not yet faced this season.
"It's a tough place to play," said junior guard Matt Carroll. "You can't hear anything. It disrupts your timing on the offensive end because you can't call any plays."
The Irish found themselves in trouble early in the first half and allowed the Hoosiers to jump out to a quick 12-point lead only 10 minutes into the game.
Notre Dame looked nervous in the opening stages of the game, hurrying their shots on the offensive end while struggling to contain Jeffries on the defensive end.
"I thought we played a little fast in this atmosphere at the beginning of the game," said Brey. "Jeffries was fabulous the entire game. He's so tough to defend because he can step out and shoot the ball just beyond the post. Our big guys had a difficult time keeping up with his quickness."
After struggling early in the first half, the Irish regained their composure, refusing to allow the Hoosiers to completely take them out of the game in the first half. Notre Dame headed into halftime facing a 10-point deficit 40-30.
Indiana's intense defense prevented Notre Dame's perimeter shooting threats David Graves and Matt Carroll from getting any clean looks at the basket in the first half. Brey made some key adjustments in the second half, fueling the comeback for the Irish. Brey decided to go inside, looking for Swanagan and Humphrey to take advantage of their bulk against the Hoosiers' lanky interior defenders, Jeffries, Jeffrey Newton and George Leach.
"We wanted to go inside against them," said Brey. "Our big guys played great, especially in the second half."
"I had a difficult time defending Humphrey and Swanagan," said Jeffries. "They are both two very physical players who have strong moves to the basket."
Despite not being able to create many open outside looks in the second half,
Notre Dame battled their way back into the game cutting Indiana's lead to only two points with one minute left to go in the game on a strong drive to the basket by Chris Thomas. The Irish then proceeded to foul Coverdale, who promptly converted two free throw attempts, giving the Hoosiers a 74-70 lead with thirty seconds remaining. Thomas then nailed a three-pointer cutting the lead to only one.
"Chris Thomas is a really good basketball player. He has a really great future at Notre Dame," said Indiana head coach Mike Davis. "I just hate that I have to see him for the next three years."
On the ensuing inbounds play, the Irish were once again unsuccessful in keeping the ball out of Coverdale's hands. As soon as Coverdale received the inbounds pass, he was immediately fouled by Harold Swanagan. With nerves of steel, Coverdale preceded to hit two more crucial free throws.
Trailing by three, Notre Dame's Matt Carroll missed an off-balanced three point attempt, but Ryan Humphrey was there for the rebound tip-in making the score 76-75 in favor of the Hoosiers with two seconds remaining. The Irish had one final chance to try to get the ball back, by stealing the long inbounds pass from Jared Jeffries, but Chris Thomas was called for fouling Indiana's Donald Perry on a controversial call by the officials.
"We were both going for the ball," said Thomas. "We both fouled each other. I thought it was a good call by the referees."
Although Perry would miss his free throw attempt, Ryan Humphrey's last second full court heave bounced off the backboard giving the Hoosiers a hard fought 76-75 victory over the Irish.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, December 5, 2001