Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
February 15, 2007NOTRE DAME, Ind.-When you've lost two in a row and your dreams of an NCAA tournament appearance are suddenly in danger of slipping away, they mean a little bit more.
"There has been no bigger win this year than this one coming off two losses," said Irish head coach Mike Brey moments after the Fighting Irish (19-6, 7-5) ended a two-game road skid with an 81-78 victory over Providence (15-9, 5-6) Thursday night at the Joyce Center.
"How we defended in the second half really set the tone. We did a much better job of defending their big guys, who killed us in the first half. They're really talented."
Indeed, for a good portion of the first half, it appeared that perhaps the Irish simply wouldn't be able to hold off the Friars, especially with senior tri-captain Russell Carter out of the starting lineup as he continued to bounce back from a nagging hip flexor injury.
Jonathan Kale, Geoff McDermott, Weyinmi Efejuku and Sharaud Curry-all sophomores-and senior center Herbert Hill shot to a 12-point lead by dominating the interior.
But some streak-scoring by Zach Hillesland and Colin Falls helped pull the Irish within four at the intermission, and then a ratcheted-up defensive performance in the second half led the Irish to their 16th straight victory in the Joyce Center this season, and 18th in a row dating back to last year.
Providence scored just 13 points through the first 10:37 of the second half, and then went 5:36 without a point after that.
"(Brey) revved it up a little this week," admitted Falls, who finished with a team-leading 16 points for the well-balanced Irish attack.
"He was in your face a little more, and we needed that. We needed to get back to some of the pre-season things we concentrated on, and we were better defensively."
That improved defense didn't surface early in the first half when Providence took a 12-point lead-22-10-at 12:32 mark. The Friars' surge was led by Kale, who had surpassed his 6.7-point scoring average by the 12:59 mark and finished with 15 first-half points.
But a 17-7 Notre Dame run, sparked by Hillesland's three straight baskets, cut the deficit to two (31-29) with 4:45 remaining.
Then it was Falls' turn. After getting shut out for the first 16:43, Falls scored nine straight and helped pull the Irish to within 42-38 at the intermission.
"They have to respect Colin and Russ so much on the perimeter that it really opens up things for you," said Hillesland, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes of action.
"If you're going to hug guys like that, you can't guard everyone to your full capabilities. To catch and turn and to see a little bit of space it's a lot of fun to play like that."
It took a much better effort on the defensive end in the second half for the Irish to move back to two games above .500 in Big East play.
Notre Dame took its first lead of the game at the 17:46 mark of the second half when Carter (15 points, 3-of-7 from three-point range) nailed a trey.
It became a two-point lead at 12:40, a three-point lead at 11:22, a four-point lead at 11:00, a five-point lead at 10:04 and a seven-point lead at 9:33.
The Irish led by as many as 11 before missing some free throws down the stretch that allowed the Friars to narrow it to three with 10.5 seconds remaining.
Rob Kurz finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Tory Jackson had 10 points and four assists, giving the Irish five players in double figures with none scoring more than 16.
"Zach gave us a great lift, and Tory Jackson was fabulous on Curry (4-of-14 shooting)," Brey said. "Curry never really got going, and that was (because) of Tory Jackson.
"I'm tired. I needed a sub," quipped Brey, whose squad forced 18 turnovers, including 13 in the second half. "We played the way we practiced.
"It wasn't (a lack of) discipline that caused us to lose the last two. But we needed to get back to some (good) habits from October, which slip naturally when you get into regular-season basketball. I think our guys embraced that."
Hill finished with 18 points for the Friars and Kale had 17, but just two in the second half. Freshman Brian McKenzie came off the bench to toss in 16 on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range.
Providence is now 1-7 away from the Dunkin' Donuts Center.