NOTRE DAME, IND. – About the last thing you'll find on Steve Howes' face after a 25-point defeat is a smile. But the Catholic University men's basketball coach had plenty of reason to take delight in his team's performance Saturday night.
"I'm really proud of our effort," said Howes following Notre Dame's 72-47 exhibition game victory over the Cardinals before 6,525 fans at Purcell Pavilion. "It's hard to ask too much more of my guys. We were giving away a lot of size, a lot of strength and a lot of quickness. I think we made our university proud.
"We gave everything we had."
Ben Hansbrough led the Fighting Irish with 30 points on 11 of 17 shooting. Tim Abromaitis added 13 points and six assists, and Scott Martin had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Hansbrough, a senior combo guard and the younger brother of former North Carolina All-American and current Indiana Pacer Tyler Hansbrough, was 6-for-10 from 3-point range and added five rebounds.
"He's very good and very quick, definitely the best guard I've played against since I've been in college," said CUA senior point guard R.J. Dixon. "He knows the game and he's a very low-turnover kind of guy. He gets his team the ball while still being able to create his own offense as well, through the system.
"He's a very gifted player."
Dixon also displayed his talents Saturday, leading the Cardinals with 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting and 3 of 6 from trey land. His second 3-pointer gave CUA an early 8-6 lead. He assisted on a short jumper by senior Jason Banzhaf to tie the game at 10 with 15:22 to go before halftime.
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey was impressed with Dixon on tape and even more so after the game.
"I think he's a heck of a guard," Brey said. "He's a senior guard with speed; he can shoot the ball. He's a heck of a college basketball player. He's got to be one of the best guards in Division III. He's got some speed, he's got a feel, he can shoot the ball. He plays at a nice pace. [I'm] very impressed with him."
Banzhaf scored nine points and collected a team-high five rebounds. Dixon's backcourt mate, Shawn Holmes, contributed six points on a pair of 3s, and had two steals.
The Irish out-rebounded the Cards, 38-33, and had 18 assists vs. five turnovers. CUA had an equal number of assists and turnovers (13). While the Cards were 18 of 54 (33.3 percent) from the field, Notre Dame finished 27 of 60 (45 percent). Hansbrough did most of the damage.
The 6-foot-3, 203-pounder who averaged 12 points a game a year ago, scored eight points during a 10-0 run on two triples and a pair of free throws to give the Irish a 20-10 lead. Hansbrough had 19 points in the first half, including 5 of 6 3-pointers, as Notre Dame crafted a 39-22 halftime advantage.
"I haven't seen somebody able to carry a team the way he did today," Dixon said. "He's definitely got the offense. There were some times where they were stagnant and he created on offense. He didn't force anything. He just played every possession.
"He definitely can play at the next level, and he's definitely a great point guard."
Senior Spencer Reed blocked an Abromaitis layup attempt that led to a Nate Koenig 3-pointer to draw the Cardinals within 48-32. It was as close as CUA would get in the second half as the Irish built as much as a 30-point lead. Senior Brian Baker and Dixon sandwiched 3s around a Hansbrough layup to make it 72-46 with 1:56 left.
The Cards were 10 of 23 from 3-point range and the Irish were 10 of 29. Brey admired the Cardinals' gutty performance.
"I'm very impressed with them," he said. "They're a little bit like us – senior guys who've won before, who want to win more. I don't know if we've ever had an exhibition game where we've had to guard so much different stuff and then have to play against so many different defenses: two different zones, man-to-man, trap in the low post...
"It was a great test for us. They're a really good team. They've got some speed off the dribble. It was a good challenge for us to evaluate our group. I love their team, though, I love Steve's group."
As the teams exchanged handshakes after the game, numerous Notre Dame players said, "Great job" and "way to play."
Howes told his club afterwards that he hopes this first game in CUA's centennial season is a springboard to greater things. He's looking for the Cards to learn from their mistakes, keep working hard and "return to national prominence."
This year's seniors – Dixon, Banzhaf, Baker, Reed, Ryan Horka and manager/student assistant coach Ryan Hyland, who played in the Irish contest – were freshmen the year after the Cardinals made their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This is their last chance to return.
"I'm incredibly proud of R.J. and his class," Howes said. "They've really helped me reload the program. I think we're ready for a successful season again. Hopefully being around Notre Dame woke up the echoes of our rich basketball tradition."
For more on the historic CUA - Notre Dame game, check out what was written by a number of different outlets.
Story written by Chris McManes, former CUA Sports Information Director
Photography, 2010 (c) Michael Bennett