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Irish get good win, good news this weekend

Chris Hine | Monday, January 29, 2007

With just over a minute to play and Notre Dame leading 62-60, Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds dribbled around a screen at the top of the key and met Irish forward Luke Harangody.

The freshman big man, who finished with four points and seven rebounds, knocked the ball away from the sure-handed Reynolds, which ultimately ended up in the hands of Irish guard Colin Falls.

Falls raced down the floor and laid in two of his game high 23 points to give the Irish (17-4, 5-3 Big East) a two possession lead they would not relinquish en route to a 66-63 victory Saturday over Villanova (14-6, 3-4) at the Joyce Center.

“For Harangody, getting that thing loose there and making a hustle play, that was the play of the game,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said after the game. “[Luke] diving on the floor right there probably was the key play to break it open.”

Falls’ bucket was a part of a 9-0 Irish run that gave Notre Dame a 66-60 lead with 37 seconds remaining. Late free throws by Wildcat forward Dante Cunningham and guard Reggie Redding cut the lead to 66-63 with 18 seconds left.

After an inbounds pass slipped through the hands of Irish forward Zach Hillesland, Villanova had a chance to tie the game, but Redding and forward Curtis Sumpter missed open three-point attempts, giving Notre Dame its 15th home victory of the season.

“[Villanova] was really good. It’s the best team that’s come into this building. We just had a hard time scoring on them,” Brey said. “I think it was a step forward for us because we haven’t had to muck one out like that.”

A three-point goal by Villanova forward Shane Clark gave the Wildcats a 60-57 lead with 3:46 remaining – but that would be Villanova’s last field goal. Notre Dame forward Ryan Ayers sparked the late Irish run a minute later with a three to tie the game at 60 and then converted two of three free throws on the next possession to give Notre Dame a 62-60 lead.

“It felt good,” Ayers said. “It was nice to be out there at the end, in crunch time, pull out a win, and help my team.”

The Irish played the last 7:12 without their leading scorer, forward Russell Carter – who’s averaging 18.4 points per game this year, good for second in the Big East.

“We were doing a pretty good job on (Carter) for once,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Brey benched Carter, who finished with 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting, after he picked up two fouls on consecutive possessions.

“I took him out not to take him out the rest of the game. I took him out just to get a blow and have [assistant] coach [Gene] Cross talk to him a little bit,” Brey said. “Then the group that was in there started playing pretty well. So, you stick with it and let that group finish the game.”

Notre Dame struggled to just 21 points in the first half and faced a four-point halftime deficit.

“They’re doubling you, they’re scrambling you. There’s not a rhyme or reason to [Villanova’s defense] sometimes, but it’s so fast and physical,” Brey said. “You’re not running your offense against them. You’re just trying to make two or three passes, hit the open man, and hope to make the right play.”

The Irish were able to work the ball inside better in the second half – whether through passing or penetration from point guard Tory Jackson – and create open looks inside and outside. Notre Dame shot 41 percent in the second half compared to just 29 percent in the first half.

“It was just a matter of making more passes there. Their pressure kind of got to us in the first half and made us go faster than we wanted to,” Hillesland said. “It was just a matter of calming down and making two and three more passes and just getting them to move around before we really attacked.”

Both teams had to adjust their respective game-plans to inconsistent officiating.

The first foul of the game occurred with 13:23 left in the first half, but in the second half, Villanova was called for its seventh team foul after only 3 minutes of play. Cunningham and Clark each picked up their fourth fouls early in the second half.

Cunningham, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, came out after his fourth, which gave Notre Dame an opportunity to work the ball inside. Irish forward Rob Kurz, who ended up with a double-double – compiling 10 points and 10 rebounds – also committed his fourth foul early in the half.

The tight officiating in the second half allowed Notre Dame to shoot 29 free throws in the second half and make 24 compared to Villanova’s 12-of-18 from the charity stripe.

Reynolds led the Wildcats with 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting while forward Curtis Sumpter added 11 points and ten rebounds.

Notre Dame avenged its 102-87 loss against the Wildcats two weeks ago in Philadelphia.

The Irish travel to Syracuse Tuesday to take on the Orange in the Carrier Dome.