For a long time Monday night, it looked like Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey would truly lament the four-game suspension of star forward Tim Abromaitis.
Trailing for much of the first half, and by as much as eight in the second, Notre Dame (2-0) somehow mustered the moxie to get several huge defensive stops, enabling the Irish to rally for a hard-fought 59-53 victory over the inspired Titans of Detroit (1-1) in a game played at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, IN.
The game started innocently enough for the Irish as they raced to a 6-0 lead, only to watch Detroit's Ray McCallum drop three straight three point bombs through the net, putting the Titans up 9-8.
From there the first half was an offensive struggle for the Irish, who clearly looked out of sync without Abromaitis. Eric Atkins tried to keep the Irish in the game, but was often double teamed off the dribble. He finished the game with 13 points.
Irish big man Jack Cooley appeared to be frustrated by the defensive work of Detroit center LeMarcos Lowe and others. He never really did get into a good rhythm, and finished with just seven points.
Scott Martin, who was tabbed as the main scorer to fill in for Abromaitis, was invisible in the first half while throwing up three bricks, although he did make a monster three to knot the game at 41 in the second half.
The Irish were fortunate to go to the locker room down only 31-28.
The second half didn't start out much better for Notre Dame as the Irish struggled through several muddy possessions while hoisting up tough shots. Meanwhile, McCallum drove down the lane for a layup to put the Titans ahead 41-33 with 14:04 remaining in the game.
That's when the Irish defense reached back for something extra and changed the complexion of the game. The Titans would not score another field goal for over seven minutes, a span which included 12 missed shots, many of them spinning out as if there were a leprechaun in the cylinder.
By the time Detroit's Nick Minnarath hit a short runner with 6:23 left, the Titans were trailing 47-43. Also, several of the Titan's big men were now in foul trouble and were reluctant to body up to the Irish as they had in the first half.
This was a perfect opportunity for the Irish to shift down into their burn offense, and that's exactly what they did.
Notre Dame's Jerian Grant then splashed a colossal three-pointer with 3:11 to go to put the Irish up 54-47. After that, all the Titans' first-half enthusiasm ebbed. Grant's 11 points helped out and Patrick Connaughton, who is a very impressive young player for the Irish, put a scoreless first half out of his mind and finished with 10. Joey Brooks really bothered the Detroit shooters on the defensive end and he also tallied 13.
The Irish didn't do themselves any favors from the free throw line hitting just 17 of 31. But they did make just enough down the stretch to keep Detroit at arm's length. Once again this is an area where Abromaitis, a career 83 percent free throw shooter, could have flourished.
After hitting some big shots early, the coach's son McCallum fell in love with the three pointer and ended the night just 7-of-17 shooting.
It's only fair to mention that Detroit was playing without one of their top players in Eli Holman. Holman was suspended before the season for personal reasons—translation: he punched out a dorm-mate in what sounds like a really crass incident.
From here, the Irish host Sam Houston State and Delaware State. Which should be a damn site easier than tonight's game. After that, Abro comes back as the Irish travel to Kansas City to take on Missouri.