Jan. 27, 2003
Having lost 2 straight league games to drop to 2-2, I was really looking forward to a ranked Notre Dame team coming into the Dunk on Tuesday night. People might think that we would rather have a more "winnable" game after losing two in a row, but having a home game against a ranked team was a great opportunity for us.
Heading into the game we were very concerned about Notre Dame's up-tempo offense. With a great point guard, 2 great shooters and a solid inside player they were a difficult match-up in their motion. They also do as good a job as any team in our league at changing from defense to offense so we knew they could come up and put up a big number.
We needed one of those great old nights at the Civic Center where the smoke is lingering from the restaurant, the seats are full and there is a buzz in the building right from the jump. The Purdue game from our first year, the UConn game from two years ago - one of those nights where our opponent wasn't ready for the atmosphere and energy that was about to hit them.
Walking into the building on Tuesday it definitely felt like a big game atmosphere. Our students were in the building early and that always gives it a lot of energy. They have been great with their support this year, and really over the last three years. Our games always seem to have the stigma of "the students just don't come," but they have been showing up and they have been loud and it makes a big difference for us.
I think we fed off of that energy at the beginning of the game and Marcus' presence in the line-up really helped our defense. He had a few big time blocks, we moved the ball well and found open people and got off to a great start. The building was loud and we were playing well - we couldn't ask for a better start.
At the first TV time-out our guys had expended a lot of energy. It was such an intense, emotional start and sometimes it is a little tougher to get your wind behind you in situations like that. I remember grabbing coach and saying "I know we're playing great, but I think we need to get some subs in." It's a tough call when things are going well, but our guys were really sucking wind. You want to keep the pressure on them and ride the momentum, but you also want to be the sharper team in the final 10 minutes.
Not being able to sustain our start was tough for us. I remember looking up with 13 minutes to go in the half and we were down by 1, thinking "man, we got off to this great start and 7 minutes in we are down by 1." Notre Dame has a lot of poise (not to mention talent), and I think their experience was a big key. Last year they played Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This year they had already played Creighton (who is a top 10 team), at Pittsburgh, at Kentucky as well as Maryland and Texas. They didn't even flinch when we came out strong against them, and they wouldn't let us keep them down. I think the fact that they regained control in the middle of the first half was a key for them.
A tough loss to a ranked team in a game we felt we could have had. We didn't play great, but we did some things defensively that bothered them and got them out of rhythm. But in the end Carroll and Thomas made the plays and we didn't, and they got out of here with a W.
So this brings up a big week for us - they are all big when you are trying to get back to .500 in the league. We travel to Miami on Wednesday night to play in their brand new on-campus arena that just opened a month ago. I'm sure it will be better than playing downtown in Miami Arena in front of family and friends, but it will also be a difficult atmosphere to play in.
Miami can present some amazing match-ups with their 6-10 wing Darius Rice. Yesterday against Syracuse they featured a line-up at times that had Rice at a guard spot with 6-9 James Jones playing the 3 and two big guys underneath. We fortunately have some size on the perimeter that can match-up with those guys, but they start the game at the 4 and the 5 spot with three guys who are 6-2 and under, so the potential for some different match-ups is certainly there.
They didn't shoot the ball well yesterday against the Cuse zone, and they didn't have a point in the final 8:38 of play. Hopefully we can extend that run for a little while on Wednesday.
With only one league win over UConn in their pocket, I'm sure they see "Providence at home" as a must-win game if they are going to be successful. It will be a war once again, and anyone looking for a night off is playing in the wrong league.
Let's crank it up again on Saturday for Virginia Tech when we get back. All the fans, the students, everyone has been great, and it really makes a difference. Hopefully we'll bring back a W and a chance to get back over .500 in the league on Saturday night.