Moot point. Friday's distraction turned into Saturday's afterthought. Junior reserve forward Carleton Scott's indefinite leave of absence from the Notre Dame men's basketball team was a hot topic right up until the Irish hit their first nine shots against West Virginia. After that, Notre Dame's 70-68 upset over the eighth-ranked Mountaineers captured the attention. "I told our guys Friday, with Carleton's situation, there's some great stories in sport, not just basketball, where a little bit of crisis, the day before a big game, the troops really rally," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "I think our guys embraced that a little bit." Freshman Joey Brooks seized the opportunity. A couple inches smaller than the 6-foot-7 Scott, Brooks came up big in the first half, scoring five points in a positive effort. "Joey Brooks has been practicing well," Brey said. "No matter what the situation was with Carleton, I told him he was getting in in the first half. He really delivered. (Brooks is) in with both feet." The critical second half, when the Irish had a 20-point lead dissolve to a missed Da'Sean Butler 3-pointer at the buzzer, was no place for the timid. It was a physical battle of wills in which the Irish scored just one basket in the final 14 minutes and 51 seconds - and still won. Continuity was missing. The Irish attempted 16 free throws in the final nine minutes. The flow was gone, but the effort was intact. Somehow, some way, Notre Dame was determined to avoid the ultimate collapse. "We only had one basket, but, you know what, we stayed aggressive and kept attacking the bucket," Irish guard Ben Hansbrough said of the second half of the second half. "One of the things we could have done was settle for jump shots. You look at some of the best teams in the Big East (Conference) - UConn, when things get really tight, they go at the bucket. "We shot 24 free throws tonight, that's a lot. Seventeen points from the free-throw line, that won us the game." Hansbrough played his role to perfection. The 6-3 senior scored just six points and had three of Notre Dame's seven missed free throws, but he made his mark with a team-leading nine rebounds and 10 assists, and not a single turnover. Hansbrough helped keep the Irish close in a 39-32 rebounding deficit against a West Virginia team that came up with 19 offensive boards. "Blocking out, and doing some breakdown, block-out stuff with the guards, we spent a lot of time on," Brey said of the plan coming in. "It was a heavy emphasis. I was on Ben a lot during the timeouts, 'I need you to fly down there (under the basket) and help us.'" He did - a lot. Tyrone Nash had Hansbrough to thank for more than a few slick feeds down low for easy buckets early. "Ty Nash (who had 13 points) is playing great," Brey said. "Ben Hansbrough sure gave him some drop-offs in the first half to get him started. T-Nash has really benefited from his penetration." So have the Irish. It was a win that could speak volumes come March. "You can't sugarcoat it, this was a huge win for us," Hansbrough said. "We came in, beat a top-10 team in the country. It's just stride, after stride, after stride. We were able to pull through tonight. "It's a huge win for our program. You talk about tournament time: Far, far away. But, beating a top-eight team, it can't hurt your résumé." But it can diffuse a distraction.
Staff writer Al Lesar: firstname.lastname@example.org (574) 235-6318