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Men’s Basketball: New look sparks victory

Pat Leonard | Monday, February 20, 2006

Seton Hall fought the inevitable Saturday at Continental Airlines Arena, but a new-look Notre Dame team (13-10, 4-8 Big East) would not relinquish the lead on its way to a third consecutive win.

Motivated by their new black jerseys or their desperate need for conference wins – or both – the Irish scored their highest single-game total of the season in a 102-91 victory over Seton Hall (16-8, 7-5) in East Rutherford, N.J.

“There’s nothing like winning,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Sunday before practice.

Notre Dame point guard Chris Quinn led all scorers with 34 points, and shooting guard Colin Falls scored a career-high 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting (8-of-15 from 3-point range). The players combined for more than half of their team’s total.

“Especially when [Colin] is hitting shots, it makes us a much tougher team to guard,” Quinn said Sunday. “… We’ve got a chance to still be a pretty good team.”

The Pirates entered the game fresh off a 71-64 defeat of West Virginia Feb. 14 but led only twice in the first few minutes before Notre Dame took control of the pace. Seton Hall struggled to defend its opponent for the full 40 minutes.

The Irish were able to protect their lead by shooting 86.8 percent (33-of-38) from the free throw line, led by Quinn’s perfect 14-of-14 from the stripe. The team led 80-67 with 3:05 remaining after Falls sank one of his eight 3-pointers. Then Pirates guard Jamar Nutter answered from deep to cut the lead to 10.

The Irish converted just one field goal the remainder of the game on a dunk at 1:32 by forward Rick Cornett, who made the free throw to complete his seven-point, eight-rebound performance.

But Notre Dame made 20 of its 21 free throws following Nutter’s three, and Seton Hall never got close enough to jeopardize the Irish winning their third straight.

“We’re going to make plays and fight to the end in every game,” Falls said. “If we get a lead, I think we can protect it because we can shoot free throws.”

Seton Hall fell despite having four scorers in double figures and receiving 28 points from guard Donald Copeland, who at points was the only scoring option on the floor for the struggling Pirates.

Nutter exploded at the end of the first half for seven points in the final two minutes to cut a 12-point Notre Dame lead to eight at half, with the Irish up 44-36. But Notre Dame forced Pirates coach Louis Orr to use a timeout less than two minutes into the second half.

Irish guard Russell Carter (17 points, eight rebounds) and Falls each hit threes, and Falls sank a two-point bucket as well to score the half’s first eight points before Seton Hall had gotten off more than one field goal attempt.

“They gave us a pretty good punch at the end of the half,” Brey said. ” … We had played so well up until that point. I thought we did a good job and show some maturity to respond and open up the half with a punch right back.”

Pirates forward Kelly Whitney scored the game’s first points and gave his team one of its two total leads in the game at 2-0. After the teams exchanged leads, Whitney tied the game at 9-9 with 15:04 remaining.

But Irish forward Rob Kurz (11 points, 9-of-10 free throws) followed a Torin Francis miss at the 14:00 mark to take the lead for good.

“Winning a big one like that on the road gives you a little added confidence,” Quinn said. “After what this team has been through, it does feel good to get on a little streak here. Three games in a row might not be much, but it does feel good.”

Notre Dame’s season-high previous to Saturday’s outburst came in a 100-97 double-overtime loss to Pittsburgh Jan. 4.

Saturday’s win means Notre Dame has the same Big East record as Louisville and Providence (4-8), but the Irish would qualify if the Big East Tournament began tomorrow.

The Irish would lose a tiebreaker to Louisville but would earn the 12th and final spot in the tournament, having defeated Providence 92-77 on Jan. 14.

Seton Hall is seventh in the conference and less than a game ahead of Cincinnati (7-6).


u Francis scored just one point Saturday to add to Cornett’s seven points, but the Notre Dame frontcourt had a much larger impact than the box score indicated.

The seniors collected 18 rebounds combined and neutralized Seton Hall’s leading scorer, Kelly Whitney.

Whitney finished with 14 points but scored the majority down the stretch, when the Irish were trying not to foul and were avoiding the contact Whitney normally creates.

Pirates coach Louis Orr also played starting center Grant Billmeier just 15 minutes. Billmeier was ineffective early and finished with two turnovers, two rebounds and no points.

“Our big guys – if we’re gonna make a run at New York – are going to have to be really good the rest of the way,” Brey said.

u Back in black?

Notre Dame’s offensive outburst occurred in its first game wearing the new black jerseys with green trim. So will the team wear the uniforms again?

“We needed to change something up,” Falls said. “We didn’t even know until Friday, and they look sharp. It was pretty cool, and I think we’ll stick with them.”