March 15, 2005
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Junior guard Kevin Hamilton (Queens Village, N.Y.) scored a career-high 26 points, 11 during a 23-5 run, leading Holy Cross to a 78-73 win Tuesday night over Notre Dame in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The Fighting Irish, who trailed by 13 points early in the second half, used a 9-2 run to close to 60-59 after a pair of three-pointers by Chris Thomas and a basket by Rick Cornett with 4:20 left. The Crusaders answered with five straight points and maintained the lead down the stretch.
It was the first postseason victory for the Crusaders (25-6) since beating Southern Mississippi 56-54 in the first round of the NIT in 1981. Since then Holy Cross went 0-6 in postseason games, although it managed to throw scares into Kentucky in the 2001 NCAA tournament, Kansas in the 2002 NCAA tournament and Marquette - an eventual Final Four team - in the 2003 NCAAs.
The Irish (17-12), losers of five of their last six, lost an opening-round home NIT game for the first time in six tries.
The Crusaders, the Patriot League team regular-season champions, played with more heart throughout, outhustling the Irish to loose balls and forcing 19 turnovers, scoring 20 points off turnovers compared to just eight for the Irish. They also outrebounded the Irish 40-36 and outscored the Irish 34-12 in the paint for their eighth straight road win.
The Joyce Center wasn't a hard place to play in Tuesday, though, with only 2,517 fans on hand, the smallest crowd for a Notre Dame home game in recent memory.
Sophomore guard Torey Thomas (White Plains, N.Y.) added 16 points for the Crusaders and senior center Nate Lufkin (Austin, Texas) had 11 points and seven rebounds. Thomas led the Irish with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Colin Falls had 18 points and Rob Kurz added 11.
Holy Cross led most of the first half, but the Irish used a 10-2 run to take a 32-27 lead with 1:52 left. The Crusaders tied it at 32 at the break on a three-point play by freshman center Tim Clifford (Walpole, Mass.) and a layup at the buzzer by Hamilton.
The Crusaders opened the second half with an 18-5 run to take control.
Holy Cross now advances to the second round of the NIT, where it will face Buffalo, Drexel, Hofstra or St. Joseph's on either March 21 or 22.