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December 22, 2006NOTRE DAME, Ind.-Colin Falls, who missed the last two games with a foot injury, returned to the starting lineup and tossed in 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting as No. 20 Notre Dame won its ninth straight game-its longest winning streak in 20 seasons-in convincing style, 88-47.
"I was really happy with our focus," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "These can be tricky games right before Christmas, but I'm not surprised by our focus. This is a team that practiced well during final exam week and came out of exams sharp. Certainly having Colin back helped heighten our awareness. It was certainly good to have him back."
Army shot to a 16-point lead on the Irish two years ago in the Joyce Center. But the Irish never gave the Cadets any breathing room Thursday night, taking a 23-point lead with 4:31 left in the first half following a 23-7 run.
Falls came out popping despite having missed the two previous games following shock wave therapy on his left foot. He hit all seven of his first-half shots and had of Notre Dame's first 15 points.
"It just felt good," said Falls, who hadn't played in a game since Notre Dame's 99-85 victory over No. 4 Alabama on Dec. 7. "The last few days I've been pain free. I felt loose and I was moving better and hopefully it continues."
"Not at all," said Brey, when asked if he was surprised by Falls' crispness. "Yesterday (in practice), he was rolling. He was back with a vengeance, and that certainly was a shot in the arm for us."
Brey had expressed concern that the Cadets would try to pack the lane with bodies and make it difficult for Notre Dame's inside game. But the Irish made them pay for their philosophy, connecting on 15-of-28 three-pointers (53.6 percent), including 9-of-14 in the first half.
The Cadets entered the game allowing its first 11 opponents just 36.2 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from three-point range.
"It's hard to (pack the lane) on us when we spread you out," Brey said. "We worked a little more on not having a low post much, except when (Luke) Harangody was in there. Then that lane opens up, we get some drives, we get some threes
"It is hard to play a jammed-in defense on us. They obviously tried to, but we made 15 threes. We took 28, and 25 of them were great looks."
Harangody chipped in with 10 points and 12 rebounds while Russell Carter, who had led the Irish in scoring in each of the previous three games, tossed in 12. Kyle McAlarney scored nine points and had eight assists. He and fellow point guard Tory Jackson combined for 13 assists and just two turnovers.
"We got beat every which way," said Army head coach Jim Crews, whose team had its six-game winning streak snapped.
"Notre Dame played harder, smarter and competed better. It seemed like Falls hit every shot he took the first 30 minutes. They cause problems for us because of their size, especially on the perimeter. They manhandled us."
The victory was Notre Dame's third in six days. The Irish have now won nine straight, their longest winning skein since Digger Phelps' 1986-87 squad ripped off 11 consecutive wins during the 1986-87 season.
Notre Dame is now 8-0 all-time versus Army.
The Irish return to the Joyce Center hardwood on Dec. 28 against Rider-Phelps' alma mater.
"Maybe we should call it the Digger Phelps Classic," Brey said.