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Men’s Basketball: Irish fall to St. John’s in final seconds

Chris Hine | Wednesday, January 24, 2007

After St. John’s forward Lamont Hamilton scored 23 points in the first half, Notre Dame shut him down in the second by making a key defensive adjustment.

The adjustment, however, contained an Achilles heel that ultimately cost the Irish in their 71-68 defeat to the Red Storm Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Notre Dame switched from man-to-man defense to zone midway through the first half in an attempt to stop Hamilton from scoring by keeping more defenders near the basket.

“The zone gave us a chance,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said in a post-game interview. “It slowed them down and changed their rhythm.”

So when Red Storm forward Anthony Mason Jr. dumped the ball inside to Hamilton with less than 20 seconds remaining and the score tied at 68, Irish forward Russell Carter cheated from his position outside of the paint to prevent Hamilton from getting an easy bucket.

Once Carter took a step inside, Hamilton spotted St. John’s guard Larry Wright open beyond the three-point line between the corner and the wing. Hamilton kicked the ball out to Wright, who drained the shot before Carter could get back outside.

Wright’s clutch shot gave the Red Storm a 71-68 lead with 9.9 seconds left.

“We gave ourselves a lot of chances to win the game,” Brey said. “Wright made a big shot right there. We had our opportunities. We certainly had our opportunities.”

Notre Dame guard Colin Falls had tied the game at 68 by hitting one of two free throws with 40. 3 seconds left. The Irish (16-4, 4-3 Big East) had a chance to tie the game again after Wright’s shot, but Carter’s shot from well beyond the NBA three-point line missed, giving St. John’s (12-8, 3-4) the win.

“I don’t want us hanging our head too much here,” Brey said. “You just don’t have time for that in league play.”

Despite missing the final shot, Carter led Notre Dame with a career-high 32 points and five rebounds, including an 11-0 personal run to begin the second half – in a game Brey wasn’t even sure he’d play in.

Carter hit the floor hard twice going after rebounds in Notre Dame’s win over South Florida Sunday.

“He was kind of questionable for this game. He didn’t practice yesterday and was very sore this afternoon,” Brey said. “I said tell me after warm-ups how you feel.”

Carter was “great,” Brey said. “He gave us a great start … I thought he was fabulous.”

Carter’s early second-half spurt erased the Red Storm’s 49-41 halftime lead, When Carter cooled off, however, the rest of the Irish could not pick up the slack. Notre Dame scored one bench point the entire game and, besides Carter’s 10-for-20 performance, shot just 27 percent from the field. The Irish also struggled from the free-throw line, shooting only 15-for-25 (60 percent).

Defensively, the Irish kept themselves in the game, limiting St. John’s to just 30 percent shooting in the second half. Their inability to put the ball in the basket late, however, prevented them from taking a significant lead.

Falls finished with 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but converted only one of his six second half 3-point attempts.

Notre Dame forward Rob Kurz could not duplicate his 21-point, 10 rebound performance against the Bulls. Kurz ended up with seven points on 1-of-8 shooting Tuesday.

Hamilton finished with 23 for the Red Storm on 8-13 shooting and 12 rebounds, with all of his points coming in the first half. Wright finished with 11 including the game-winner while St. John’s guard Eugene Lawrence added 13.

The loss drops Notre Dame from second to sixth place in the Big East standings as it prepares to face Villanova Saturday at the Joyce Center. The Wildcats defeated Notre Dame 102-87 last Wednesday in Philadelphia.

“[Villanova’s] very good and very hot right now,” Brey said. “But they bumped us so I hope our guys remember that.”