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Strong start, finish

Pat Leonard | Thursday, January 20, 2005

Troy Murphy should watch his heels.

Chris Thomas had 16 points and Colin Falls led all scorers with 19 as the Irish beat West Virginia at its own game in a 70-57 win in Morgantown, W. Va. Wednesday night.

Thomas notched his 2,000th career point, becoming only the sixth player in Notre Dame history to do so and needing just 11 points to tie Murphy’s 2,011 career total. Murphy, now with the Golden State Warriors, played three seasons with the Irish.

Thomas was a major player in a terrific shooting night for Notre Dame (12-3, 4-1 Big East), which made 52 percent of its 3-point shots and six more from behind the arc than the traditionally dangerous Mountaineers (11-4, 1-3).

“Our guards were excellent tonight,” Irish coach Mike Brey told ESPN after the game.

Notre Dame won its second straight and its first of seven road games in its next 10 contests.

Since Boston College squeaked out a 67-66 win over Villanova Wednesday, the Irish and Golden Eagles sit in a comfortable tie for second place in the Big East.

Notre Dame got to that point with help from forward Rick Cornett, who came off the bench in the first half to provide an inside presence for a previously one-dimensional offense.

Cornett finished with six points on 3-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes of play, and he and Torin Francis kept the Mountaineers honest down low. The Irish took advantage on the perimeter.

Notre Dame made 13-of-25 3-point attempts, shooting 45.1 percent from the field overall compared to West Virginia’s 33.3 shooting percentage.

Falls, Thomas and Chris Quinn (13 points, 4-of-9 shooting) all finished in double figures.

“When we’re shooting the ball like that, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Brey told ESPN.

Notre Dame jumped out to its largest lead on a Quinn three-pointer with 10:11 remaining, increasing the lead to 59-40.

The Irish kept the offense open against West Virginia’s 1-3-1 zone, allowing Thomas to drive and giving Cornett, Francis and Latimore room to operate on the low block.

Johannes Herber led the Mountaineers with nine points, while D’Or Fischer and Kevin Pittsnogle chipped in eight apiece.

West Virginia fell into a hole early, as Notre Dame hit seven first-half 3-pointers and went into halftime with a 38-31 lead.

Notre Dame is 11-0 this season when leading at halftime.

The Irish are out to their best start in conference play since the 2002-03 season, when Notre Dame won three of its first four and six of its first seven Big East games.

The Irish made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament that season.

Thomas finished with six rebounds and five assists along with his 16 points that helped him reach the 2,000-point mark.

Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Pat Garrity, David Rivers and Troy Murphy are the other five players with 2,000 or more points in Notre Dame history.

Jordan Cornette had six blocks to go along with six points in 32 minutes.