Monday, February 28, 2011

Double (bye) A Pleasure for Irish

AP Photo / Joe Raymond

Notre Dame clinched a coveted double-bye in the Big East tournament tonight after dominating a lost Villanova squad 93-72 in a game that was not even as close as the final score indicates.

On senior night it was Ben Hansbrough, who transferred to Notre Dame after two seasons at Mississippi State, who put an exclamation mark on his career in South Bend. He finished with 30 points, 10 assists, and five steals to add to his Big East Player of the Year hopes. He is just the fifth player in the past 15 seasons out of the major basketball conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-10, and SEC) to accomplish that feat in a single game. For good measure, he also tacked on two rebounds.

Brother Tyler Hansbrough, the former North Carolina Tar Heels All-American, National Player of the Year, and current Indiana Pacers player was in the stands alongside Ben's parents and other brother. 

Fellow Senior Tim Abromaitis also finished with 30 points. Abromaitis is technically a senior, though he earned an undergraduate degree in finance in three years, is finishing an MBA this year, and has one year of eligibility remaining in which more schooling will follow. 

Led by Abromaitis' career high nine threes, Notre Dame hit a single-game school record 20 3-pointers on 20 of 32 shooting from behind the arc. It was one behind Kyle McAlarney's school record 10 threes against Tyler Hansbrough's Tar Heels in 2008. The younger Ben Hansbrough chipped in with seven threes of his own tonight. 

Senior forward Tyrone Nash tied his career high rebounding total with 11 on the game to pace all players. 

Thanks in part to an overtime win by Louisville over Pittsburgh the Irish have are in contention to win the regular season Big East title. With an Irish win at Connecticut on Saturday and a Pittsburgh loss in either of its two remaining games (at South Florida and home against Villanova) the Irish will earn their first ever Big East regular season title.

Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4 Big East), would finish tied at 14-4 in conference under the scenario described above, but thanks to the Irish victory in Pittsburgh earlier this season the Irish would win the tie-breaker and, consequently, the title.

Head coach Mike Brey has instructed his squad the entire year to focus on chasing Pittsburgh, rather than divert attention to the rearview mirror. Currently, his Irish sit alone in second place in the Big East and at No. 7/8 (USA Today Coaches/AP) in the country.

Check in ESPN/ESPN2 on Saturday at 2pm EST to see if the Irish can hold up their end of the bargain at Connecticut. Shortly afterwards, Pittsburgh will take on Villanova at 4pm EST on CBS.

Notre Dame has lost seven straight on the road vs Connecticut but this has been a strange season in which the Irish have defied odds time and time again. Picked to finish no better than seventh in the league by the coaches before the start of the season, the Irish are on the brink of their best season in school history.

On January 4, the Irish beat the Huskies 73-70 in South Bend. See if they can double the fun this Saturday. 

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