Mar 5, 2012, 2:43 PM EDT
On Christmas Day, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team was 8-5 overall. When the spring semester began, the Irish were 11-8 and 3-3 in BIG EAST play.
Here we stand on the eve of the BIG EAST tournament, and head coach Mike Brey has his team in a position no one thought they would be, especially after co-captain Tim Abromaitis was lost to a season-ending knee injury in November.
After posting a 13-5 conference record, the Fighting Irish earned themselves a #3 seed and a double-bye, where they will take on #6 South Florida or the winner of #14 Villanova and #11 Rutgers on Thursday night at 9 pm on ESPN.
But before Notre Dame takes to the Big Apple, here’s a look at some memorable moments from the season so far, saving some of the best for last:
December 27, 2011 vs. Pittsburgh: Notre Dame kicked off its BIG EAST schedule with a big win over the #22 Panthers. While many were focused on college football’s bowl season, Alex Dragicevich hit four 3-pointers and netted a career-high 22 points to lead the Irish to a 72-59 win at Purcell Pavilion. In the end, Pittsburgh was one of the surprise disappointments of the conference this year, but the win set the tone for the Irish’s BIG EAST slate. Highlights on UND.com.
January 29, 2012 at Connecticut: It was not the prettiest offensive performance, but Notre Dame escaped Hartford with a 50-48 win, its third straight victory and second consecutive away from home. Eric Atkins scored 13 points and Jerian Grant added 11, as the Irish defeated the #24 Huskies on their home floor.
February 8, 2012 at West Virginia: After falling behind by 10 at the half, the Mountaineers fought their way back and took the lead with under five minutes to play. It looked like Notre Dame’s winning streak was destined to end in Morgantown, but Atkins, Grant and Scott Martin hit a trio of 3-pointers down the stretch to carry the Irish to 55-51 win, their fifth straight.
March 2, 2012 vs. Providence: It was a special evening at Purcell Pavilion, as Notre Dame honored Abromaitis and Martin for Senior Night and inducted Adrian Dantley into the Ring of Honor. In the end however, it was junior Jack Cooley who had the biggest night. Cooley posted a career-high 27 points to go along with 17 rebounds, as the Irish held off a furious Providence comeback to win, 75-69, their 21st victory of the season.
January 7, 2012 at Louisville: While the women’s team was locked in a classic battle with Connecticut back in South Bend, down in Louisville, the men’s team won its second impressive game of the young BIG EAST season, knocking off the #11 Cardinals in double overtime, 67-65. Atkins finished with 15 points, including six key ones in the final minute of the second overtime to lead Notre Dame to the upset.
February 4, 2012 vs. Marquette: After heading to the locker room with a four-point lead, Notre Dame dominated the second half to upset the #15 Golden Eagles, 76-59. Pat Connaughton had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and the Irish knocked down 11 3-pointers to win their fourth straight, and fifth of the season against a ranked opponent.
February 18, 2012 at Villanova: As the Wildcats had a down year, this game was not so much about whom the Irish beat, but rather, how they beat them. Notre Dame erased a 20-point deficit to win its eighth straight BIG EAST contest, 74-70 in overtime. The improbable win was sparked by Connaughton’s seven 3-pointers and Cooley’s 18-point, 13-rebound performance.
January 21, 2012 vs. Syracuse: Speechless. A Notre Dame moment. The game of the year.
For the eighth time in program history, and the sixth straight at Purcell Pavilion, the Fighting Irish defeated a #1 team, knocking off undefeated (20-0) Syracuse, 67-58. Students and fans rushed the court, joining the team in absolute jubilation. It was an incredible you-just-had-to-be-there night to be a Notre Dame fan. What’s more, the victory was the start of a nine-game winning streak that helped the Irish climb the BIG EAST standings and national rankings, surely on their way to a NCAA tournament berth when the bracket is announced on Sunday.
Just for fun…
And finally, the Best of Jack Nolan – the voice of the Fighting Irish on the Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network.
It’s been a season full of great memories, but before we close the book on 2012, let’s hope we can add a few more examples of Jack’s signature “Got It!” and “Yes!” to this exciting highlight reel.
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