Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – Notre Dame survived foul trouble and poor free throw shooting in the final minute to hang to a 73-70 win over the 9th ranked Huskies for their second win over a top 10 opponent in the last week.
Ben Hansbrough played all 40 minutes pacing the Irish with 21 points and limiting the nation’s leading scorer, Kemba Walker, to 19 points – almost 8 points under his season average.
Walker’s 19 points were a bit deceiving on the surface though. UConn’s speedy, sharp shooter connected on just 8 of 23 field goal attempts while missing all 5 of his three point attempts and ending his streak of 11 straight games 20 or more points in the process.
Hansbrough’s effort was not lost on his coach, “I told Ben Hansbrough that it was a heck of a workout to guard Walker and then score 21 points while making key plays,” head coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Ben has been a man, but tonight he was the ultimate man on both ends of the floor,” he added.
Notre Dame was playing without senior forward Carleton Scott who missed the game with a hamstring injured suffered over the weekend in the loss to Syracuse. Without their leading shot blocker and second leading rebounder, Notre Dame used just two reserves, but nearly had to dig deeper into the bench.
Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash both battled foul trouble in the second half. Nash missed a long stretch in the first half after picking up his second foul midway through the half. By the time Nash picked up his fourth foul in with 13 minutes remaining, Martin had already collected his fourth as well. Neither player, however, would end up fouling out.
Notre Dame led almost throughout the entire game, but things got interesting in the final two minutes. As the clock ticked below the two minute mark, Notre Dame held a 69-61 lead and looked to be on cruise control. No one told UConn, though, and the Huskies outscored the Irish 9-4 over the final two minutes and held the ball with a chance to tie the game with 20 seconds to go.
Turnovers and poor free throw shooting allowed UConn to get back in the game. Tim Abromaitis, an 83% free throw shooter on the season, missed three of four free throws over the last 20 seconds including back to back misses with 8 seconds. Hitting just one of the two would have iced the game.
Poor free throw shooting was a theme of the night for Notre Dame with the Irish hitting just 19 of 31 attempts or 61.3%. It was encouraging, however, to see Notre Dame get to the line as often as they did after struggling to draw fouls on Saturday against Syracuse.
In the end, UConn couldn’t tie the game, however, and the Irish improved to 2-1 in Big East play – a record that looks more impressive when you consider each Big East opponent for Notre Dame has been ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game.
Notre Dame hosts the surprising Red Storm from St. John’s on Saturday. Steve Lavin has guided the Red Storm to a 3-0 conference record that includes a win over Georgetown Monday night. If the Irish can take care of business at home this weekend, a trip to the top 10 in next week’s polls looks very possible.
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