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Men’s Basketball: Homeward bound

Chris Hine | Friday, February 16, 2007

After dropping their last two games at South Florida and DePaul, the road weary Irish return home tonight to face Providence with key positioning in the Big East standings – and Notre Dame’s 15-0 home record – on the line.

“It feels good to be back home. This home floor has been good to us,” Irish forward Rob Kurz said. “We’re excited after being on the road to get a chance to play in front of the home fans.”

In their last outing Saturday, the Friars’ (15-8, 5-5 Big East) upset bid against No.5/7 Pittsburgh fell short. Despite building a six-point lead in the second half, Providence could not hold off the Panthers and fell 74-68.

“We watched them Saturday, and they looked pretty good,” Irish guard Colin Falls said. “They’ve been playing a little more [man-to-man defense] than they have in the past.”

Guard Sharaud Curry and forward/center Herbert Hill lead the Friars offensively. Curry averages a team-high 17.2 points per game, while Hill averages 17.0 points.

“Curry and Hill have been so good for them. Curry hurt us last year, even though we won both games,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “You have to slow him down and keep his transition opportunities to a minimum.”

Hill, who also averages 8.4 rebounds per game, could present a problem for the Irish inside.

“Athletic guys like him are difficult for us,” Brey said. “We’ve got four different guys that can guard him, but we have to help off the perimeter and help off [Providence forward Geoff McDermott] a little bit, play some zone and change defenses.”

Hill’s 6-foot-10 frame is similar to that of St. John’s forward Lamont Hamilton and DePaul forward Wilson Chandler. Both Hamilton and Chandler tortured the Irish in the paint, combining for 48 points and 25 boards in their respective appearances against the Notre Dame.

“Hill’s having as good a year in the Big East as anybody,” Kurz said. “We just have to be in good position on him, make sure he doesn’t catch it too deep in the post and make sure we have good pressure on the guards so they don’t have easy post passes. It’s going to be a team job.”

The Irish return home after dropping the last two games of their three-game road swing. In losses at South Florida and DePaul, Falls (14.3 points per game) accounted for more than one-third of Notre Dame’s offensive production, scoring 26 points against the Bulls and 20 points against the Blue Demons. Meanwhile, the two teams held Notre Dame’s leading scorer, guard Russell Carter (17.8 points per game), to 14 and nine points, respectively.

“We play pretty well offensively [at home]. We want to run. I think we can change ends on them,” Brey said. “We’re going to have to play against some of their zone so we’re also going to have to be patient.”

A win for the Irish will stop their season-high two-game losing slide and keep them in contention for a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament.

“That’s our goal, and we have to finish strong down the stretch, and it starts [tonight]. We really have to set the tone,” Falls said. “We haven’t lost two games in a row yet this year. To come off that and play well would be a big thing for us.”

Tip-off is 7 p.m. at the Joyce Center.