SOUTH BEND – There was that brief Walter Mitty moment for visiting IPFW when the scoreboard showed a 7-all tie between the Mastodons and Notre Dame – an imaginary touchdown and extra point apiece.
But the reality of Monday evening inside Purcell Pavilion was IPFW’s unranked basketball team shot 35.4 percent, 22nd-ranked Notre Dame shot 51.8 percent, and a game that was briefly close slowly built into a 74-62 Irish victory.
It’s not as though Notre Dame (10-1) blasted IPFW (5-7) out of the quiet gym where 6,755 souls watched, as did a national TV audience. It was more that the Irish kept the Mastodons at arm’s reach.
Whenever IPFW hinted at cutting dramatically into Notre Dame’s cozy leads that hovered between 14 and 9 points, the Irish nudged comfortably in front. But at the same time, whenever Notre Dame looked as though it was about to blast the Mastodons back to Fort Wayne, IPFW wouldn’t go away.
Second-year IPFW coach Tony Jasick saw the difference between the 12-point loss at Notre Dame and the 81-56 pasting his team took from Purdue this time last year.
We lost some guys off that team I deeply care about who are really great guys, but as a general rule, I think this team might have a touch more fight, Jasick said. We may play a little harder; we might fight you a little more than maybe last year’s team did – not taking anything away from those guys.
Notre Dame was up 19 (55-36) with 13:35 to go. We’ve got a pretty young team. At that point, a lot of teams pack it in and start looking toward the next one, but our guys will fight you. I was proud the way we did that as the second half wore on.
It was around the midway stage of the first half, though, when IPFW fell down and couldn’t get up.
IPFW got within 13-11 on Mario Hines’ basket out front with 13:50 still left in the opening half when the Mastodons went into a 0-for-11 slump that lasted more than five minutes. That’s when the Irish went on an 8-0 run that gave them a 21-11 lead, which was the birth of the double-digit margin that IPFW chased the rest of the night.
Twenty of the 29 Notre Dame baskets were credited with assists, with Eric Atkins getting seven of them. Pat Connaughton led Notre Dame with 18 points, with Jack Cooley and Scott Martin adding 14 and 13.
Joe Edwards and Luis Jacobo had 11 each for IPFW, and Hines finished with 10. The Mastodons’ leading scorer, senior guard Frank Gaines, was held to seven points on 2-of-14 shooting.