Notre Dame bolts from Akron
Notre Dame’s pace was off. The Irish were overanxious at the beginning of their NCAA opener, knowing that as a second seed they were expected to win against Akron.
Leading the scrappy Zips by four at the break, the Irish scored the first nine of the second half to build a more comfortable lead and then held on for a 69-56 victory Friday in the second round of the Southwest Regional.
“It took us a long time to kind of calm down. I’m glad the halftime was 20 minutes because we needed all of it just to kind of ratchet our blood pressure down a little bit,” coach Mike Brey said.
“We were better in the second half because our tempo was better.”
Ben Hansbrough, whom Brey said was playing too fast in the first 20 minutes, finished with 15 points. Tim Abromaitis added 14, Scott Martin pitched in 9 of his 11 points in the second half and Carleton Scott tied his high with 14 rebounds.
Next up for the Irish (27-6) is Florida State, which beatTexas A&M 57-50.
Martin — a transfer from Purdue who sat out two seasons, one after blowing out his knee — was a key in the second half, scoring six early points and getting the Irish on track.
“I think the great thing about it is that we played bad in the first half and we got better,” Martin said. “Something we can take away from it is that we improved in the game and now we’re back to where we should be and hopefully it will continue from here.”
Hansbrough, the Big East Player of the Year who shot just 3-for-16 in a loss to Louisville in the semifinals of the conference tourney, was just 4-of-11 from the field but was 6-for-6 from the line and had six assists.
“I thought he forced plays at times in the first half. In the second half, his decision making was excellent, and it helped us flow,” Brey said.
The 15th-seeded Zips (23-13) were appearing in just their third NCAA Division I tournament and second in three years. Entering the game, they’d won 11 of their previous 13, beating Kent State in the Mid-American Conference tournament to get into the tournament.
Their defense played Notre Dame’s motion offense tough, especially with 7-footer Zeke Marshall there to block four shots and change the trajectory of numerous others.
“We fought back. We just couldn’t put enough baskets together on a continuous basis to win,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “That’s what a mid-major has to do to beat a high major with a seed that high is you have to shoot the ball better than that, really.
“We felt like we got good shots even from the outside that just didn’t go in for us tonight. We thought we could score on them, but we just didn’t. I thought it was going to be a bigger challenge to guard them, and we actually did a decent job.”
Quincy Diggs led Akron with 11 points. The Zips shot only 35.9 percent and Marshall was just 2-for-13 from the floor.