Desperate turns into dynamic for Hansborough and the Irish
Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough givs high fives to the ND student body after defeating Marquette. (Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)
Three fouls in the first 18 minutes weren't enough to keep Ben Hansbrough down. Neither was the Marquette defense. Or, the shot clock, for that matter.
Nothing stopped Hansbrough Saturday night. Good thing for the Notre Dame men's basketball team.
Hansbrough scored a career-high 28 points, hit two key shots that jazzed up a crowd hungry for something good to happen, and willed the Irish past Marquette, 80-75.
Notre Dame had just recovered from a nine-point halftime deficit. Score tied at 57. Midway through the second half, the shot clock was winding down on the Irish. The ball squirted loose in front of the Irish bench. Hansbrough gathered it in and, in the same motion, launched a shot. Nothing but net.
“(Irish senior reserve) Tom Kopko helped me out on that,” Hansbrough said of the play that happened in a hurry. “I knew it was the end of the shot clock because as soon as I caught it he said (from the bench), ‘Shoot it.' I just turned around and let it fly. As soon as I let it go, I had a feeling it was right on line; got lucky and it went in.”
Lucky? Maybe. Looked like he knew what he was doing all along.
That shot injected a surge of adrenaline into the large crowd, as well as the Irish hopes.
Ninety seconds later, Hansbrough did it again. After a defensive stop by Notre Dame, Hansbrough had the ball on the baseline beyond the arc. He made one quick move, beat Marquette's Jimmy Butler, and finished the play with a roof-raising jam.
“I had the angle,” Hansbrough recalled. “I've been missing some bunnies. I've been working on that in practice. I just wanted to get to the rim. The opportunity got there and I just went up.”
He got to the rim. And then some.
That lead never faltered. While Hansbrough's moments conjured the magic, it was coach Mike Brey's halftime defensive switch to a zone defense that made those moments possible.
The Irish shot 57 percent in the first half (12 of 21) and still trailed by nine. Marquette, which had stung the Irish with a 3-point shooting clinic in Milwaukee earlier this month, was good again. The Golden Eagles hit 61.5 percent (16 of 26) from the field in the first 20 minutes.
“The coaching call (going to the zone) changed the whole momentum of the game,” Hansbrough said. “The way (Marquette) was playing against us in the first half, I didn't know what was goin' on. I think they made almost every shot.”
What made matters worse was that Hansbrough was called for his third foul with 2:21 left in the first half. Bench time? Nope. At that part of the game, Hansbrough was the only thing keeping the Irish afloat.
“You just have to be smart,” Hansbrough said about playing in foul trouble. “(Darius) Johnson-Odom (who he was guarding) has one of the quickest first steps in the Big East. He got me in there a couple times. You've gotta be smart. Understand you've got three fouls. Just try to stay in front of people. You can't reach, as much as I like to. I didn't get any steals.”
No steals, but a lot of points. And no fouls in the second half.
The zone defense not only protected Hansbrough from further foul problems, but it neutralized what had been Marquette's obvious edge in athletic ability. Once that gap was narrowed, the Irish seized the momentum and pulled away.
Big win - 5-3 in the Big East rather than 4-4 - heading into a road battle with league-leader Pittsburgh Monday night.
“(Being 5-3) is a lot different,” Hansbrough said, rolling his eyes. “It's a long season. We've got a long way to go. This group has to have a better focus on the road. With Carleton (Scott) being back (from a hamstring injury), that's going to help us tremendously. Carleton gives us so much fire and energy.”
It was Hansbrough's turn Saturday night - when desperate turned to dynamic.
Staff writer Al Lesar: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6318