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Men’s Basketball: Carter contributing more as he develops

Pat Leonard | Wednesday, February 1, 2006

This time last season, Notre Dame guard Russell Carter was barely playing. He averaged just 8.5 minutes in 2005 and logged two minutes in a 65-60 loss to Villanova on Jan. 26 of last year.

In stark contrast, Carter started against the Wildcats Saturday, playing 31 minutes and forcing the issue on a second-half Irish comeback.

Notre Dame fell short on a Kyle Lowry tip-in with 1.7 seconds remaining, and Carter fouled out, but his aggressive moves and athleticism put Villanova in the unfortunate position of either having to foul him or simply watch the junior work down the stretch.

“That’s always been a big part of my game, going to the basket,” Carter said following the game.

The Irish average nearly 24 3-point attempts per outing. But when Carter is on, opponents almost have to tear up the scouting report to deal with the new scoring option.

“I want him to keep doing what he’s doing, because he gives us that slashing guy to the basket that’s different than the other perimeter guys we have,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Monday.

The problem has been Carter’s consistency, or the lack of it.

Though he’s averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as the Irish head into Morgantown, W. Va. tonight, Carter has battled to earn his coaches’ trust.

On Saturday, during a second-half stretch in which the Irish had momentum, the junior guard caught the first pass of the possession from point guard Chris Quinn and fired a deep 3-pointer that rimmed out.

The Irish walked to the bench as a timeout was called, and Brey could be seen telling Carter, “Not so early,” suggesting the shot selection was unwise.

“We certainly want him to drive, but he doesn’t have to drive on the first pass,” Brey said. “Don’t force plays. Just let plays come to you.”

Carter did, for the most part, against Villanova. He finished with 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and – perhaps most importantly – made 8-of-11 free throws. It was the most free throws attempted by a Notre Dame guard in a single game this season, second only to Torin Francis (12 attempts against Providence, Jan. 14) on the entire team.

“He went through a tough week [during] the Providence/Marquette week,” Brey said, referring to Carter’s five total minutes in the 1-1 stretch. “I thought he was probably forcing some plays and maybe not focusing on the things that he does well for us. [The key is] staying to his strengths and away from his weaknesses.”

Carter also understands that opponents sometimes dictate the lineup Notre Dame shows. Against an athletic, guard-heavy team like Villanova, for example, Carter would most likely see increased playing time. The junior started, however – and Brey also left him in the game – because he had shown flashes of offensive force in the previous 85-82, double-overtime loss to Villanova.

“In certain games, you may need certain players,” Carter said. “Everyone on the team understands that.”

But if he continues to get to the free throw line and remains patient on offense, Carter may also force the issue on the permanent makeup of Notre Dame’s starting lineup.