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Irish Avoid First-Round Upset

A freshman, faceoffs and a full-court press led No. 2 Notre Dame to a comeback victory Saturday night at Arlotta Stadium. The Irish scored six unanswered goals to beat Detroit 9-7 and narrowly avoid one of the bigger upsets in the history of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

John Kemp made 10 saves to help keep Notre Dame in position for a comeback win Saturday evening in South Bend.

Matt Kavanagh, the team’s leading scorer in this his rookie season, accounted for four of those six goals in the fourth quarter. Kavanagh slipped inside a Detroit defender with 5:30 to play in the game and found a crease to the front of the net in a play that appeared to be on repeat in the final 15 minutes of the game. He flicked and overhand shot past the shoulder of Titans goalie A.J. Levell to give his team an 8-7 lead and officially pull them out of the hole for good.

It was the third time this year that the freshman has put together four goals in a single quarter and it marked the first time any first-year player at Notre Dame has scored four times in an NCAA Tournament game.

“He’s a terrific player. He’s multi-dimensional, which is probably the most unusual thing about a freshman,” head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “Most freshmen even if they’re very talented tend to be one dimensional and you have to play to them to get them their plays. Matt finds his plays within the game.”

Kavanagh and his teammates struggled to find any plays early in Saturday’s game as Detroit withered away most of the first half. The Titans, playing in the first tournament game of the program’s five-year history, were content to hang on to the ball as long as possible to level the playing field.

Detroit (5-10) snuck into the postseason by upsetting two teams in the MAAC Tournament after finishing the regular season with a losing record. They looked poised to keep the Cinderella run rolling in South Bend. Notre Dame trailed 5-1 at halftime. Both teams scored twice in the third quarter to maintain the Titans’ four-goal cushion.

Prior to Saturday’s comeback teams that scored less than two goals in the first half of a tournament game held a 1-52 record. The only other win came earlier Saturday afternoon when Yale bounced back to beat Penn State 10-7 in Happy Valley.

It was also the second consecutive half when the Irish offense was held to only one goal. Syracuse kept them at bay last weekend to defeat Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament semifinals.

“It’s definitely good to put up some goals there especially late in the second half,” senior attackman Sean Rogers said. “We have to have that fight that we had in the fourth quarter to ground balls and to 50-50 balls. When everyone is playing with that high energy we’re capable of scoring six goals a quarter.”

The offense found its groove when Corrigan switched to a 10-man ride defense, designed to create pressure on the ball as far from their net as possible. Detroit struggled to clear the ball throughout the fourth quarter and often found itself trapped when it did get across midfield.

Sophomore Nick Ossello also helped keep the ball in Notre Dame’s possession by winning seven of the 11 faceoffs he took in the second half. Titans faceoff specialist Damien Hicks had won six of the eight draws before Ossello came on in relief for the Irish. That kept the ball on the Irish side of the field and gave Kavanagh the chances he needed to create goals.

“The ride did a good job of causing turnovers so I had a little space when we picked up the ground balls,” he said. “… We’ve been in this situation a bunch this season. It was the last quarter of our season so we weren’t going to let up.”

Notre Dame will travel to Indianapolis next week for a quarterfinal game against Duke or Loyola (Md.), which plays its opening round matchup Sunday afternoon. Loyola (Md.) beat the Irish in the national semifinals last May. The Blue Devils have twice ended Notre Dame’s tournament hopes in the past four years.

“Definitely looking forward to playing either one of them,” Rogers said. “They’re both really good so we know we’re going to have another battle on our hands.”

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