On a night where one co-captain - Tim Abromaitis - was serving the second of his four game suspension and the other - Scott Martin - was scoreless for the first 30 minutes, Notre Dame was spurred by a flu-ridden Eric Atkins, Joey Brooks and Pat Connaughton as they gutted out a 59-53 win over the Detroit Titans, the team favored to win the Horizon League this season.
The Irish defense impressed Monday night as they held their opponent to 31% shooting, at one point forcing the Titans to 12 straight misses during their comeback in the second half.
Detroit, actually, more like Ray McCallum, started hot hitting four straight 3's to jump on the Irish early and took a 14-8 lead five minutes into the game. McCallum was voted the preseason Horizon League player of the year and the former 5 star PG prospect would be a leading candidate for postseason All America honors had he chosen to play for Ben Howland at UCLA instead of his dad. All that said, McCallum's childhood friend Joey Brooks switched over to guard him and locked him down holding him to just 1-12 shooting before he converted two late layups at the end of the game, with the result already in hand.
The Titans also controlled the paint for most of the game with big man LaMarcus Lowe who blocked 5 shots and pulled down 10 rebounds. But the Irish were able to get him in foul trouble and fouled him out with 6:39 left to go.
The Irish got off to a poor start on the defensive end, but turned it around on that end in the second half, switching back and forth between man and 2-3 zone, making all the right switches and slides, and grabbing key rebounds. After falling behind 39-31 with 14:51 left, the Irish began a comeback keyed by freshman wing Pat Connaughton who energized the team by drawing fouls, grabbing rebounds and hitting key buckets.
After two outstanding defensive possessions, including one that ended in a 24 second violation, the struggling Martin hit his first and only bucket to tie the game at 41. The Irish never trailed beyond that point and clinched with a dagger corner 3 from Jerian Grant with 3:11 to go.
Other than some poor play earlier in the game on both ends - settling for jump shots, missing defensive assignments, not putting a hand up to contest a long jumper - the Irish turned in one of the grittiest, toughest performances I have ever seen from a Brey coached team. I was damn proud of the team and all 9 players who saw action Monday night.
The home crowd support, however, was atrocious particularly from the student body. The 9000 seat capacity Purcell Pavilion was less than half filled against a team favored to win a league that features Butler. It's time for Irish fans to step up to the plate and support this very promising squad.
Notre Dame will play host to Sam Houston State on Wednesday evening. Tip off is set to be at 7:30pm.