PROVIDENCE, R.I. — So this is what it's like to wander into a tornado. All manner of chaos and wreckage and nonsense swirling around, which is basically how Providence plays basketball, and Notre Dame got sucked into that vortex of insanity Wednesday night.
Yet after the relentless wind-burn, and after the Friars' Marshon Brooks ground their defense down to the marrow like no player ever before, the result was a 94-93 victory for the No. 9 Irish at the Dunkin' Donuts Center and a sweet, merciful escape.
Big East) was subsumed quickly in Brooks' supernova outing, a 52-point detonation that set a Big East record and is the most points scored by anyone, ever, against an Irish men's basketball team.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a performance like that," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "That was staggering. I'm just thrilled we escaped because that was what it was going to be when he got going."
In fact, it took superlative nights from two Irish players — plus accommodating Providence (14-14, 3-12) defense — to keep pace for a double-bye in the Big East tournament. Ben Hansbrough scored a career-best 32 points on 10 of 13 shooting and Tim Abromaitis added a season-high 28 points, every last bit of it needed.
The Irish got the requisite quick start, up 13 early, shot 56.1 percent overall and still led by double-digits with four minutes left. But they hung on by fingernails with Brooks exploding for a mind-boggling 35 second-half points, neither man-to-man nor zone nor gimmick defenses slowing him even a half-step.
"There was no way to stop him," Abromaitis said. "He scored pretty much every way you can score, on pretty much all of us, pretty much throughout the whole game."
But again: Notre Dame won. The lead dwindled to 92-90 with 7.4 seconds left, but freshman Eric Atkins calmly drained two free throws to leave little room for drama. A heave at the buzzer from Brooks didn't come close and was probably tardy, anyway.
"It really hasn't hit me yet," Brooks said of his 20 of 28 shooting night. "When I get home, I'll sit down and say, I scored 52 on Notre Dame. Against the No. 9 team in the nation, it's incredible."
Incredible, sure. But the Irish's own linchpin guard hastened to apply a very crucial asterisk.
"He got hot," Hansbrough said. "He made some really tough shots against us. At the end of the day, it wasn't enough."