Mike Hutton: Notre Dame men oblivious to semi-empty gyms
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or email@example.com January 5, 2013 6:00PM
Notre Dame guard Scott Martin, left, gets ready to shoot as Seton Hall guard Tom Maayan defends the second half of an NCAA college basketball game wth Notre Dame Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 93-74 with Martin leading all scorers with 22 points. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:50AM
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame basketball thrives on solitude or noise. Whichever. Doesn’t matter.
The loneliness of a quiet gym? Bring it on. The loneliness of their own quiet gym? Bring it on. The loneliness of being the second sport at a one-sport university? Bring it on some more.
They have alternately played in a vacuum at Purcell Pavilion and before that, the Joyce Center, for years now. Always depends on the timing and magnitude of the opponent whether the place is going to be hopping with hardcore fans or lilting toward some entirely different, undefined atmosphere.
So, the students were on Christmas break, they have this little thing called the BCS title game on Monday in Miami and the Irish were back in South Bend doing their thing against Seton Hall in an artificially full Purcell Pavilion where ushers could be heard telling fans behind the baskets to move front and center if they wanted to before the game started.
Yes, it was an echo chamber for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who generally urged his team to play fast and exploit the weak perimeter defense the Pirates employed.
And yes, Brey and Scott Martin were gracious when they praised the crowd size, listed at 8,523, after the game. The fans were imports and freebies, a combination that makes for a strange, eerie kind of basketball experience.
It didn’t take long for the team to normalize the oddness of the day.
Somewhere in the bowels and the long cavernous hallways of Purcell you could hear a mouse dancing happily during Notre Dame’s 16-7 run post half-time run that dizzied a dangerous Seton Hall team.
This game presented the sort of nervous challenges that make for sleepless nights for coaches.
Notre Dame hadn’t played for two weeks, the campus was empty and Seton Hall was quite possibly dangerous. They owned an RPI of 48. Brey had taken his team to Chicago during the week to practice and to a Bulls game to break up the monotony of the layoff. College basketball players are wired to run like colts every couple of days during the season. Extended breaks can be rhythm killers.
The Pirates were a two-loss team with a win on the road against Wake Forest. They also had the comfort of already playing in their Big East opener after they defeated DePaul 73-72 on Wednesday.
Notre Dame is anything but affected by the lack of noise or the time off. They are, as Brey likes to say, men. Semi-professionals — at least in the way they can attack a weak zone, milk the clock when they get a lead worth savoring and have their shooters find the same skinny piece of hardwood off a complicated array of screens and cuts in a dark gym.
Turn on the lights? Anything can happen.
The Irish made 12 of 18 3-pointers, shot 56.5 percent from the field and generally turned the Seton Hall defense into something resembling a tattered cheese cloth when they scored on 13 straight possessions over a period at the end of the first half and starting into the second half.
The masterful display of offensive basketball ended with a turnover by Eric Atkins with 13:44 left. Jack Cooley’s lay-up with 1:47 left in the first half started it.
Seton Hall was broken by then. They had managed to keep it reasonably close early, trailing by eight at halftime.
But the shorthanded Pirates, with just eight healthy players, played a weak, helpless zone for the entire second half because the coach said they had no choice. They might as well have stuck the dagger in their backs themselves with that defensive selection.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, looking bedraggled and short with words, was anxious to get out of Purcell Pavilion and home to his kids after the beat down, knowing the full effect of Notre Dame’s play hurts just the same no matter who is watching or how many are the game.