Winthrop upset was expert pick

11th-seeded Eagles chill Notre Dame's offense

Winthrop 74 Notre Dame 64

Ncaa Tournament

March 17, 2007|By David Haugh

SPOKANE, Wash. -- His head buried in his hands, Notre Dame senior guard Russell Carter lingered alone on the bench as his teammates began shaking hands with Winthrop players after the 11th-seeded Eagles' 74-64 victory yesterday in the first round of the NCAA men's tournament Midwest Regional.

Irish coach Mike Brey came over to coax Carter into getting up to congratulate the Winthrop players. After all, as Brey and every bracketologist from here to Rock Hill, S.C., knew, they had earned it.

"I thought their men played like men," Brey said of Winthrop. "We were a little knocked back. We looked young. They looked old."

Indeed, the wheels came off for sixth seed Notre Dame at "The Spoke." That was the nickname Brey gave the host city in a good-natured attempt to loosen up his team's shooters 24 hours before tip-off. It didn't work.

Whether it was NCAA tournament nerves or Winthrop's hovering defense, Notre Dame hit 41.8 percent of its field-goal attempts, including four of 22 from three-point range, and scored 17 points below its average of 81.

Colin Falls led the Irish with 14 points in his final college game but hit only two of 10 from three-point range. Leading scorer Carter, 0-for-6 from behind the arc, finished five points below his average with 12.

"I had look after look. I just missed them," Falls said.

Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall predicted if his team could keep Notre Dame in the 60s, it would have a chance. He was right.

The Eagles, 29-4 after the school's first NCAA tournament triumph, advance to play third seed Oregon tomorrow.

For months, Winthrop had been touted as a mid-major team with enough experience and talent to do damage in the NCAA tournament - this year's George Mason, according to many analysts.

Notre Dame found out the hard way how right those predictions were.

The Eagles shot better, defended harder and out-rebounded their bigger, more physical opponent from the Big East, 43-41.

"I thought our guys were quicker to the ball and relentless on the glass and that was the key to the game," Marshall said.

After Winthrop outscored the Irish 37-10 over a 14-minute stretch to take a 54-34 lead, Brey's team started playing as if it had ideas of manufacturing one of those Notre Dame moments.

"I told our guys in the huddle when we were down 20, `CBS has left this game - let's make them come back to it,' " Brey said.

The Irish responded. Winthrop went scoreless for 6:10 in the second half to let Notre Dame back into it before Marshall reminded his team it had come too far to go home so early.

"All of a sudden, there was a leprechaun closing that rim," Marshall said. "If that 20-point lead had evaporated and we lost that game, I was going to be the dumbest coach in America."

That was the way it began to look after Notre Dame took a 63-62 lead on Luke Harangody's hook shot with 2:21 left. But the Eagles answered with a game-ending 12-1 run.

Senior swingman Torrell Martin put on a dazzling all-around display with 20 points, 11 rebounds and active defense on Carter that illustrated why NBA scouts have him on their radar.

David Haugh writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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