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ND Men’s Basketball: Shell shocked

Bobby Griffin | Monday, December 4, 2006

Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney scored a career-high 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting and the Irish defeated No. 23 Maryland 81-74 in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. Sunday – their first game against a ranked opponent all season.

It was Notre Dame’s second consecutive victory against Maryland, the last coming in the first round of the BB&T Classic in 2002 when the Irish knocked off the defending champions 79-67.

“Younger guys on this team that really haven’t been in positions like that tonight [were] making plays,” guard Colin Falls said. “We really grew up tonight and I think it’s a great confidence builder for us to continue on our non-conference schedule.”

Notre Dame had four players in double figures. McAlarney led all scorers, followed by forward Rob Kurz (16 points), Falls (14 points) and guard Russell Carter (13 points). Sophomore Zach Hillesland made his first career start and contributed with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The Irish trailed the Terrapins 32-29 at the half after guard Eric Hayes nailed a 3-pointer to take the lead into the break. The teams traded baskets early in the second half until McAlarney took over. Tied at 49, the sophomore scored eight consecutive points – two 3-pointers and one layup – to take an eight point lead and force Maryland coach Gary Williams into calling a timeout with 8:18 remaining.

“This was a big stage and I’m not the type to back down from anyone,” McAlarney said. “Obviously I’m really proud of the way I played but all our guys tonight really stepped up.”

Out of the timeout, Notre Dame guard Colin Falls nailed a 3-pointer capping off an 11-0 run from which Maryland would not recover. The Irish scored 52 second half points, including a stretch where they made 11 consecutive field goals from 13:58 to 7:23 left in the game.

“We just stayed really poised in an away atmosphere, they have all the fans and everything,” McAlarney said. “Sometimes it’s tough, it’s hard to get going because they have such momentum but we just stayed real poised, put good pressure and we just controlled the tempo. And we just knocked down shots.”

Notre Dame limited Maryland’s production on the offensive end after it got up 60-49 relying on a combination of zone and man-to-man defenses. The Terrapins cut the lead to six points after guard Greivis Vasquez (13 points on 4-of-15 shooting) nailed a 3-pointer with 5:30 remaining, but would never pull any closer.

“If we can defend, we’re going to be a dangerous basketball team,” Falls said. “We’re an NCAA Tournament team if we defend and rebound. I’ll stick to that and in the years past if we had defended and rebounded better, we would have been in the NCAA Tournament.”

Notre Dame controlled the tempo from the beginning of the game, jumping out to a quick 7-2 lead heading into the media timeout with 15:55 left in the first half. Kurz had five points in that stretch – the first two baskets of the game. Maryland would respond with a 10-5 run of its own to tie the game at 22 with 5:20 remaining in the first half. Terrapins forward Ekene Ibekwe (13 points on 5-of-7 shooting) led Maryland in that stretch with seven points.

Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry led the Terps with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go along with his six steals. Notre Dame’s attention now turns to Alabama, who visits the Joyce Center Thursday – the team’s second consecutive game against a ranked opponent.

McAlarney said he’s excited to combine the momentum from Sunday’s win with Notre Dame’s home atmosphere.

“I love our fans and hopefully all of them show up on Thursday,” McAlarney said. “They’ve been great so far this year.”