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Men’s Basketball: Salem, without a stake

Chris Khorey | Thursday, November 30, 2006

Even with two ranked teams looming next week, Notre Dame wasn’t caught looking ahead Wednesday night.

The Irish (5-1) dominated an overmatched Winston-Salem State squad 90-45 at the Joyce Center in their final tune-up before facing No. 23 Maryland Saturday in Washington, D.C., and No. 6 Alabama next Thursday at home.

“[Tonight] was good for our confidence,” Irish forward Rob Kurz said. “We have to play two really good teams next week, but I think we’re a pretty good team too.”

Kurz led the Irish with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The junior hit the bottom of the net on every shot he took, going 5-of-5 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

“All my shots were pretty open,” Kurz said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me for open looks.”

While Kurz was humble, Irish coach Mike Brey praised him.

“He’s a guy who has really arrived as an excellent Big East forward,” Brey said. “I’m really pleased with his improvement and where he is mentally.

“There isn’t a harder worker in our basketball program.”

As a team, Notre Dame out-rebounded Winston-Salem State 41-19.

“We knew coming into the game that we had a size advantage,” Kurz said. “Our focus was really to get on the glass.”

The Rams, who dropped to 1-9 in their first year in Division I, scored first, but the Irish responded with 10 straight points, including a steal-and-slam by senior guard Russell Carter, to take a commanding early lead.

Winston-Salem State scored the next four points, but Notre Dame responded with 12 points to go up 22-7 and cruised into halftime leading 46-25.

The Irish kept their foot on the gas in the second half, extending the lead to 30 with 10 minutes left in the game and outscoring the Rams 44-20 after the break.

After Lehigh made 56.9 percent of its shots in a 93-87 loss to Notre Dame Monday, the Irish held the Rams to 30.4 percent shooting from the field Wednesday, including just 19 percent in the second half.

“We definitely played pretty solid [defense],” Kurz said. “We weren’t happy with our defensive effort Monday night and we concentrated on rotating better and communicating better on defense in practice.”

Irish forward Ryan Ayers played 21 minutes Wednesday, scoring six points, grabbing three rebounds, blocking one shot and getting two steals. Brey said he was glad to be able to get Ayers some quality minutes because he wants the sophomore to be a consistent part of a nine-man rotation this season.

“We have a rotation, but the ninth guy is the one we’re trying to figure,” Brey said. “We need to find our if we have nine or not.”

Notes:

u Each of the Rams uniforms read “C.E. Gaines” on the back nameplate to honor former coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines, who coached at Winston-Salem State from 1946 until 1993 and died in 2005.

The Rams will wear the special uniforms all season.

u With a free throw in the second half, senior guard Colin Falls became the 45th player in Notre Dame history to score 1,000 career points.

Falls scored 13 points Wednesday, bringing his career total to 1003.

u Thirteen players saw action for the Irish, with 11 scoring points. Brey used a nine-man rotation for most of the game and inserted freshmen Joe Harden and Jonathan Peoples with seven minutes to play. Peoples scored seven points while Harden tallied two on the night.

Walk-ons senior Kieran Piller and freshman Tim Andree entered the game with 1:36 to play, but neither scored.