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Men’s Basketball: Irish rodeo

Bobby Griffin | Thursday, February 16, 2006

Notre Dame forward Rob Kurz scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Irish emerged with a 62-55 victory over South Florida Wednesday in a game where Notre Dame struggled on the offensive end.

The Irish (12-10, 3-8 in the Big East) shot 4-of-20 from 3-point range and 19-of-50 overall. Notre Dame guard Colin Falls highlighted the rough night by shooting 1-of-10 from the field (0-of-9 from 3-point range) for nine points.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of South Florida (6-18, 0-11 in the Big East). “They defend pretty good and they’ve got some speed, and they do have a shot blocker back there, which kind of changes things and has guys looking around sometimes.”

Despite Notre Dame’s shooting problems, the Irish were able to put together an impressive 19-2 run to bounce back from an 11-6 South Florida lead with 13:50 left in the first half. Kurz sparked the run when he immediately hit two quick shots after checking into the game.

“The one thing that Rob did bring for us tonight, which I thought was important, was high energy and activity,” Brey said. “When he came in and made those two buckets, that kind of got us going.”

The run was highlighted by a Russell Carter breakaway dunk with 9:51 remaining. Carter led all Notre Dame scorers with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

The early lead – which reached 31-19 at half – let Notre Dame stay in control of a game where South Florida played its own style of basketball.

Brey knew exactly what to expect from the Bulls, who have been known to slow down game tempo and grind out possessions on both ends. He also knew Notre Dame would have trouble building on a lead that reached 14 early in the second half.

“I think for us, it wasn’t going to flow like the Rutgers game because we weren’t going to get it back as quick,” Brey said. “They were going to play a certain way. I think it was 57-54 the other night down in Louisville. Louisville pressed them the whole way and couldn’t speed them up.

“Fourteen is a big lead with that tempo.”

South Florida cut the lead to 51-43 with 3:08 remaining in the second half on a Soloman Jones free throw, but Notre Dame immediately responded with a Carter layup.

The score went back and forth for the next few minutes, as both teams traded baskets on their respective possessions.

“We didn’t expect them to quit; if they did quit we would have won by 30,” Carter said. “But they kept on fighting and they clawed their way back a little bit.”

Irish guard Chris Quinn – who has been the most reliable offensive player for the Irish all season – struggled offensively throughout the game. Quinn was averaging 18.6 points per game coming into Wednesday’s game, but scored just 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting.

“We didn’t do a very good job of moving on the offensive end,” Quinn said. “We didn’t do a great job of moving the ball, and it showed in our offensive production.”

Brey credited his defense for making up for the offensive struggles on a night when Quinn and Falls combined to shoot 4-of-20 from the field.

“I thought overall we were very good defensively to keep them in the 50s,” Brey said.

South Florida shot 23-of-56 from the field and just 1-of-6 from 3-point range. Brey said South Florida’s struggles from behind the arc allowed Notre Dame to stay in control down the stretch.

“I thought we did a very good job of not letting the 3-point line hurt us,” he said. “Because in a game like that, they throw a couple in… that’s when they have a shot to win the game at the end. That’s been their history.”

Bulls forward James Holmes led South Florida with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Jones added 13 points and 12 rebounds – including a second half alley-oop dunk that awed everyone in attendance.

The win was Notre Dame’s second consecutive victory in the Big East.

The Irish have put themselves in a position where every game is a must-win to get into the Big East tournament.

But Carter said the Irish are not worried about figuring out how many of Notre Dame’s five remaining games will be necessary to win in order to make the tournament, which takes the 12 best of the 16 conference teams.

“I let all of you do the looking,” Carter said.

“I don’t know who is ahead of us and who is under us. All I know is we are 3-8. I think I do it on purpose so I don’t have to worry about anyone else.”