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Men’s Basketball: Bulls use slow tempo, strong rebounding to down Irish

Chris Khorey | Monday, February 5, 2007

Notre Dame’s road woes returned Saturday.

The No.19/21 Irish could not capitalize on momentum from their first true road win of the season – a victory over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Tuesday – and fell to South Florida 69-63 at the Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla.

Notre Dame (18-5, 6-4 Big East) dropped to 3-5 away from the Joyce Center this season and fell to sixth in conference.

The win was the first over a ranked team this year for the Bulls (12-11, 3-6 Big East), and South Florida students stormed the court after the game.

“We’ve had a couple people storm the floor on us this year,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a post-game interview, referring to the crowd’s reaction when struggling St. John’s topped the Irish in Madison Square Garden Jan. 23.

The Bulls’ intentionally slow tempo held Notre Dame 20 points below its season scoring average. South Florida’s 48-38 rebounding advantage – including 16 offensive boards – made the Bulls’ strategy even more effective.

“They hurt us with second shots,” Brey said. “Their athletic ability on the offensive boards was the key to the game.”

Notre Dame scored just 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game and just 26 in the opening half.

“We were digging out of a hole the whole time,” Brey said. “On the road, if you don’t get off to a good start, it’s an uphill battle.”

The Bulls took a 31-26 lead into halftime and extended the lead to as many as 10 early in the second half.

Notre Dame recovered and took a 46-44 lead with 10 minutes left but couldn’t hold on.

Forward McHugh Mattis led South Florida with 23 points and 16 rebounds.

“Mattis was fabulous tonight,” Brey said. “He made every big play and cleaned up every missed shot. We had a hard time with him.”

Guard Colin Falls led the Irish with 26 points, but Notre Dame struggled in the paint. Forwards Luke Harangody, Rob Kurz, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller combined for just 14 points on 6-of-19 shooting.

“We couldn’t get much inside offensively,” Brey said. “We need to be able to get it inside to take a little pressure off our shooters.”

Kurz, who was nursing a sprained ankle, played 19 minutes off the bench. He collected one rebound and four fouls but did not score.

The junior had been averaging 14 points and almost nine rebounds.

“The first thing we have to do over the next few days is get Kurz healthy,” Brey said. “He gave us some minutes but he was hurting.”

The Irish will try to bounce back Thursday against DePaul in Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

“I still think we have a very good basketball team,” Brey said. “We just have to get some rest and get healthy and get ready for a tough one on Thursday.”