Notre Dame vs. Cincinatti

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Eric Atkins (0) shoots the ball against Cincinnati Bearcats forward Yancy Gates (34) during the second half of the quarter final round of the 2011 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. (US PRESSWIRE/ Mark L. Baer)

NEW YORK – Seated with a towel over his shoulders and legs stretched out on the Madison Square Garden floor, senior captain Ben Hansbrough looked like someone causally waiting for his train to arrive downstairs in Penn Station.

Almost like a businessman in no hurry to get home after another routine day – and a good day — at the office.

That it was for Hansbrough and No. 2 seed Notre Dame, which made quick and frighteningly effective work Thursday night of No. 7 Cincinnati in the Big East Championship quarterfinals.

Hansbrough scored a game-high 23 points, then watched the final four minutes unfold from the bench with the rest of the senior starters as the Irish registered a school record for margin of victory in a league tournament game, 89-51.

"We were really good offensively," Hansbrough said. "We’re still not at our 100 percent potential, yet but we should continue to push each other and see how good we can be."

How good was fourth-ranked Notre Dame? It was the second most-lopsided win by any team in Big East Tournament history behind only the 41-point Syracuse victory over Boston College in 1999.

The 89 points, secured when the Irish scored the last 15, tied a school record at the Big East Championship. The Irish trailed once – 1-0 — for all of nine seconds and enjoyed a double-digit lead for more than half the game.

"Notre Dame played tremendous," said Bearcats coach Mick Cronin. "We obviously were at our worst; they were at their best.

"We got taken to the woodshed."

Winners of 12 of its last 13 and charging hard toward a possible No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, Notre Dame (26-5) moves into the Big East semifinals for a second consecutive season. The Irish are 4-4 lifetime in the quarterfinals, 0-3 on a tournament Friday night. Notre Dame faces third-seeded Louisville (24-8) around 9:30 p.m.

The Irish beat the Cardinals, 89-79, in a memorable Feb. 9 overtime game in South Bend.

Four days removed from game action following Saturday’s regular-season finale victory over Connecticut, Notre Dame was expected to play well. But nobody in the Garden could have seen this coming. Not after the Irish had to grind their way to 66 points during the teams’ mid-January matchup.

Not after the Bearcats (25-8) had talked so tough the previous night about earning respect within the conference, and nationally, with the chance to beat the nation’s No. 4 team.

Not even after coach Mike Brey looked to keep his guys loose but focused by taking them Tuesday evening to see "Jersey Boys" up on Broadway.

"I wanted them to see the best actors and chemistry and how a group plays off each other, because I believe that’s what they’ve done this year," Brey said. "So we were like ‘Jersey Boys’ tonight.

"We were all doin’ our thing."

And doing it really well. The Irish shot 56.1 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from 3 and out-rebounded a seemingly more physical, larger group of Bearcats, 38-33.

Notre Dame had 22 assists, committed a season-low five turnovers and led its third different league opponent this season by at least 32 points. The Irish coolly handled pressure, calmly ran their offense, which featured a little "burn," and held the Bearcats scoreless over the final 7:26.

"It’s good to play well on that floor," said Brey, whose team lost by 18 points to St. John’s here in mid-January. "We would like to keep playing here for a while."

Thursday was a big step for the Irish and for Hansbrough, who two nights earlier had accepted league Player of the Year honors. Two former Irish – Luke Harangody (2008) and Troy Murphy (2001) — struggled in their first tournament games – both losses – after the highest honor. But any burden barely seemed to bother Hansbrough.