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Men’s Baskeball: Kurz’s 25, Falls’ 21 highlight comeback win

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Notre Dame overcame Lehigh’s 82-percent shooting from 3-point range in the first half and Rob Kurz led the comeback with a career-high 25 points on 6-of-9 shooting – 15 points in the second half – to give the Irish a 93-87 victory at the Joyce Center Monday.

Guard Colin Falls scored 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting to assist Kurz, after the Irish trailed Lehigh (2-6) 46-44 at the half.

The Irish (4-1), after struggling in close games last season and earlier this year in a 71-69 loss to Butler, proved they are capable of pulling away down the stretch Monday after shooting 56 percent in the second half and nailing 15-of-16 from the free-throw line.

“We fought back. They were throwing everything in and we still found a way to win,” Falls said. “For this team, I don’t want to dwell on it, but we haven’t won many games like this.”

Notre Dame had five players in double figures including Falls and Kurz. Guard Russell Carter had 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting, forward Zach Hillesland had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and forward Luke Harangody had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.

Lehigh senior Jose Olivero led all scores with 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Irish coach Mike Brey credited his performance after the game, as Notre Dame struggled finding ways to defend his erratic, yet efficient shots throughout the game.

“[Olivero’s] a senior guard whose played in a lot of games,” Brey said. “I told him, I said, ‘you’re a heck of a player.’ Kids like that they play a lot as young guys and by the time they’re juniors and seniors – they’re Big East guards, they’re not Patriot League guards anymore.”

Trailing by two at the half after Olivero nailed a 3-pointer as time expired before the break, Notre Dame found its groove with a balanced inside-outside attack.

Falls scored the first four points of the half after nailing a 17-foot jumper and following it with 2-of-3 from the line after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 18:46 remaining.

Hillesland, who replaced forward Luke Zeller to open the second half, was there for the tip after Falls’ miss, though, giving the Irish a two-point lead from which they would build momentum as the half progressed.

Hillesland also finished with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in addition to his double-digit point total.

The two teams traded baskets for the next five minutes until Harangody missed a layup and Kurz was fouled on the putback. Kurz hit two free throws with 14:50 remaining, which ignited a 12-4 Irish run and put Notre Dame ahead 70-61.

“I didn’t know he had 25 … I still think he turned down some shots,” Brey said. “Great night offensively, but he’s such a stabilizing force defensively in there too rotating and getting his hands on stuff.”

Kurz was 12-of-13 from the free-throw line in the victory and added eight rebounds.

Notre Dame maintained its lead, again going back and forth with Lehigh, until the Mountain Hawks began fouling down 92-83 with 26 seconds remaining.

During that stretch, Carter was productive defending Olivero – who until that point was scoring at will for Lehigh. The senior guard attempted only two field goals inside five minutes remaining.

“He was hitting everything. If he got a little bit of space he was pulling,” Carter said. “His green light is like UV rate. If he’s touching it, he’s pulling it and he has such a quick release.”

Lehigh came out of the gates firing on all cylinders in the first half. The Mountain Hawks opened a 12-5 lead four minutes into the game before guard Kyle McAlarney hit a mid-range jumper to cut the lead to five before the media timeout.

“I don’t want to take away anything from Lehigh, they’re really good,” Brey said. “We had a hard time with them and a lot of it was their execution.”

But Lehigh’s 9-of-11 3-point shooting in the first half allowed the team to maintain control – the Mountain Hawks led by 13 points with 8:29 remaining before the break – despite Notre Dame’s own 51-percent first half shooting.

“On a night like tonight, thank God you’re a good offensive team,” Brey said. “You were gonna have to score some points tonight because they were in a rhythm.”

Notre Dame will return to action Wednesday against Winston-Salem State at 7:30 p.m. at the Joyce Center.