No sleeping on Notre Dame as Cormac Ryan and Irish oust Alabama
Cormac Ryan was unstoppable, scoring a career-high 29 points, and sleep-deprived Notre Dame wore down a rested Alabama squad, beating the sixth-seeded Crimson Tide, 78-64, Friday at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
Ryan was 10-of-13 shooting, including 7-of-9 from 3-point range, and his 29 points are the most for an Irish player in an NCAA tournament game since Mike Brey became coach in 2000.
“I was just letting it fly. And when you have it rolling, you have it rolling. So picked a good night for it, I guess,” Ryan said.
The 6-foot-5 senior guard from New York City scored 11 of Notre Dame’s first 16 points, and also had a highlight-reel layup on a long alley-oop pass from Prentiss Hubb in the final minute of the first half as he scored 18 in the first half.
“It feels good to be able to showcase that on the biggest stage,” Ryan said.
Ryan is averaging 13.8 points a game since moving into the starting lineup on Feb. 9 against Louisville. Brey said Ryan has been more confident since becoming a starter.
“He's been even a better leader, to the point where he drags people with him, even his coach sometimes,” Brey said. “His energy and wanting to go after it is really special right now.
"It comes at a great time. It's funny how that started since he's been starting. And I knew he'd be ready the way he was talking, the way he was talking to his teammates. He senses the moment for us.”
Brey said Ryan pulled him aside in Brooklyn after the Irish were upset by Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinals last week.
“He came up, put his arm around me, he said, ‘Coach, be all over our ass tomorrow in practice.’ I said, ‘Message taken. Thank you.’ And so leadership, and they have ownership. It's a neat group that way.”
The Irish opened a 44-36 point lead when Nate Laszewski hit a 3-pointer 46 seconds into the second half. But Jo Davison made three straight baskets for the Crimson Tide to cut the lead to 44-42. Ryan hit another 3 to extend the lead back up to five points.
Ryan then hit a 3, and Paul Atkinson Jr. had a three-point play after being fouled. Atkinson then scored inside again to give the Irish a 52-42 lead.
Noah Gurley scored on a slam dunk for the Tide, and Juwan Gary looked like he was headed for a layup on a steal. Instead he was called for fouling Dane Goodwin. Ryan then hit another 3 to make it 55-44,
The Crimson Tide (19-14) didn’t put up much of a challenge after that as they sustained their fourth consecutive loss.
Notre Dame (24-10) will face third-seeded Texas Tech (26-9) in the second round Sunday at 7:10 p.m. EDT (TBS).
The Irish missed five of their first six shots Friday, but shot 54 percent overall, making 10 of 16 free throws, and were 10-of-11 from the free-throw line. The only big negative for the Irish was turning the ball over 18 times after having just five turnovers in 50 minutes in the double-overtime victory over Rutgers.
Blake Wesley, who sat with foul trouble and had only four points in the first half, finished with 18 points and three steals. Wesley scored six straight points after Alabama cut the lead to 55-47. He later stole a pass by Davison for a fast-break slam to bring the crowd to its feet and extend the lead to 68-58.
Wesley said he didn’t get down after finishing with eight points on 4 of 17 shooting against Rutgers and struggling against Alabama in the first half.
“Still had my poise, still cheered on my teammates when we were even down and up. Just being myself. Even when things aren't going right, how you're going to be? Just be myself,” he said.
Atkinson added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Laszewski had 10 points and six rebounds.
Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama’s starting point guard and second-highest scorer at 14.2 points a game, went down with a left knee injury at 16:31 and didn’t return.
The 64 points were the second-fewest points scored by the Crimson Tide this season. They were beaten 66-55 by Kentucky.
Keon Ellis led Alabama with 16 points. Jaden Shackleford, who is from Hesperia, Calif., 140 miles north of San Diego, and is Alabama’s leading scorer at 16.7 points, was held to 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field.
It wasn’t the win over an Alabama squad that Irish fans have been dreaming of ever since the football team lost to the Crimson Tide 42-14 in the national championship game at the end of the 2012 season, but it will do for now.
Notre Dame was playing just 40 hours after beating Rutgers 89-87 in double overtime in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio and landing in San Diego about 4 a.m. PDT. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide, who hadn’t played since being upset by Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on March 10, were sleeping in their hotel rooms.
Ryan said the short turnaround may have helped.
“We were hungry down in Dayton, and I don't think we ever lost it. We kind of rolled into California with that hunger,” he said. “I think the quick trip actually helped us, because we were still hungry. It was like we just got off the court; put us back on, we're ready.”
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