The stage was set for one final shining moment from the quintessential leader of the Hoopin' Irish. And "The Warrior" delivered in grand fashion. (Absolutely love the image of Tory's brother chanting "Champ" up and down the aisles during the 2nd half).
The little point guard who could lifted the Irish to a 3rd straight improbable victory, this time over a fellow bubble team who easily defeated them earlier in the season. Tory poured in 20 of his game-high 22 in the 2nd half, refusing to allow any bad memories sour this evening.
The script for the night was supposed to revolve around the acclaimed All-American, a hard-working Hoosier son with a nose for the basket, triumphantly exiting with his name etched high atop the Big East and Notre Dame record books. Funny that Hollywood would reject that version.
Instead, the Best Supporting Teammate proved (again) why he's been the heart and soul of Notre Dame basketball for four years. #2 wears his emotions like the tattoos on his arms - loud and proud. He's never backed down from an opponent, a situation or a moment and finds elusive ways to succeed in spite of obstacles. His enthusiasm has been a constant breath of fresh air for teammates and fans alike - a kid who truly embraced the opportunity to play college athletics.
For their careers, Gody's statistics and media attention dwarfed Tory's impact, though present circumstances beg for some revisionist history as to the bigger influence on the team's success. Tory came in under the radar as a 3-star recruit according to Rivals, #118 overall and the #24 point guard in the country (quite a competitive list. In hindsight, I'd rank Tory as having the 8th biggest impact as a college PG and drop him somewhere in the 50's overall). He was recruited by USC and his home state Wolverines, but jumped at the opportunity to grab the reins immediately in Mike Brey's offense.
Flashes of Tory's brilliance were seen early on as a freshman leading the Big East in assists in conference games. His drive-and-dish mentality created easy buckets by attacking the paint. Along with a feisty defensive edge, Tory's play stood in stark contrast to the preceding Chris Thomas era. This year, Tory's assist/turnover ratio (2.67) bests all of CT's "glorious" four years. Normally the smallest player on the court, Tory routinely soared for rebounds in traffic, taking pride in the dirty work on both ends.
My favorite memory of Tory first grabbing the spotlight was his gutsy play in his first Big East Tournament. MSG's lights weren't too bright as he nearly willed ND to the title game with an inspired effort against an uber-talented Georgetown squad.
Never the best shooter, he saved his scoring bursts for the most opportune moments. His tough drives were sensational and his surprise outside shots spelled doom for opponents as he singlehandedly tipped the momentum meter towards the Irish whenever a bucket was needed most.
Tory played the position of point guard better than any player I've seen in person*. I'm confident I can speak for all of ND Nation in saying "We'll miss you a whole heckuva lot Tory. Fare thee well."
#2 truly stands in a class by himself.
*(min. 10 games)