SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tim Abromaitis' hustle plays were the difference in helping No. 9 Notre Dame move closer to securing a double-bye in the Big East tournament.
Abromaitis scored 22 points, Ben Hansbrough had 21 and the Irish beat Seton Hall 60-48 Saturday night to remain in second place in the conference. Notre Dame (23-5, 12-4) can lock up a bye in the first two rounds of the league tournament when it faces Villanova on Monday night."That double-bye is big for us," Irish head coach Mike Brey said. "It keeps us looking forward and not behind us. There is a lot going on back there and I've tried to talk to the team about chasing [first-place] Pittsburgh, rather than looking back."Abromaitis came up big at the end of the first half as he gathered in a loose rebound and made an off-balance 3-pointer as time expired to pull the Irish to 27-24 after a half in which they shot only 32 percent and committed seven turnovers."It was nice going into the locker room with only a three-point deficit," Abromaitis said. "The shot might have been a little bit lucky, but it was good for us to see it go down. I think it helped us make up for the good shots we had that didn't go down."For Pirates head coach Kevin Willard, it was just more of the same things that his team has faced all year."Those are the plays that really get you," he said. "It has been the way our season has gone. Being up three at halftime is still big, especially on the road, but that shot gave them a lot of energy."The teams played close early in the second half, with the Irish taking a 31-30 lead. Then, Abromaitis made another key play in the middle of Notre Dame's 13-0 run. After several near misses by Notre Dame, the ball bounced toward a couple of Seton Hall players but Abromaitis dove on it and passed it to Hansbrough, who converted a three-point play."I call those heart plays," Hansbrough said. "And we had a lot of them tonight. That's really why we won, because of our heart plays. We did not win because of our offensive flow, because we did not have our best flow tonight. We got stops when we needed to, and we found ways to win."Seton Hall pulled to 44-43 on a rebound by Fuquan Edwin with 6 minutes remaining but consecutive 3-pointers by Abromaitis and Scott Martin sealed the Irish's win."Abro diving on the ball was the biggest play of the game," Brey said. "We learned an inexpensive lesson tonight about playing at your highest level every game. Our experience and our maturity has a lot to do with us not panicking when we are down 11 in the first half and them not panicking helps me not to panic. We found our identity in the second half and I think we defended really well."Notre Dame warmed up to shoot 40 percent from the field, while the Pirates shot 30 percent.Jeff Robinson had 16 points for Seton Hall (11-17, 5-11), and Jeremy Hazell added 14.Seton Hall jumped out to an early 6-0 lead as Hazell and Robinson hit quick 3-pointers, before both teams struggled from the field. Seton Hall still led 11-8 after nearly 8 minutes were gone inthe first half.Notre Dame started 3-for-14 shooting and Seton Hall was 4 for 17 from the field.Robinson converted a 3-point play by Robinson that gave Seton Hall a 20-11 advantage with 5:51 to go in the first half. The Pirates stretched the lead to 11 before Notre Dame staged a late rally to pull within three at halftime.