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Men’s Basketball: Deep fried

Chris Khorey | Friday, February 16, 2007

Colin Falls scored 16 points and Rob Kurz and Russell Carter each added 15 as Notre Dame erased an early 12-point deficit and kept its hopes for a first round bye in the Big East tournament alive by beating Providence 81-78 Thursday at the Joyce Center.

The Irish (19-6, 7-5 Big East) were coming off a two-game losing streak that dropped them back to sixth in the conference and out of the top 25 in both the AP and Coaches Poll.

“There has been no bigger win this year than this one after the two losses,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after the game.

Providence dominated the first 10 minutes, leading 24-12 with 10:52 left in the half.

Sensing the game – and a possible NCAA Tournament bid – slipping away, the Irish quickened the tempo and fought back. Keyed by eight points from forward Zach Hillesland and nine from Falls, Notre Dame trailed 42-38 at the half.

Hillesland, who tied a career high with 14 points, positioned himself near the free throw line for most Irish offensive possessions and helped break down Providence’s 2-3 zone.

“It was nice to be able to catch and turn and have a little space,” Hillesland said of the offensive scheme.

The sophomore finished the game with eight rebounds, three assists and two steals to go with his points.

“Once I got going, the juices started flowing,” he said.

Notre Dame opened the second half with a 7-2 run and took the lead, 53-52, on a 3-pointer by Carter with 18 minutes left.

Carter did not start the game due to a hip flexor injury and scored just two points in the first half, but he lit up the Friars’ defense for 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting after the break.

“I was a little cold in the first half, but I felt better in the second half,” he said.

Brey said the decision not to start Carter helped the senior see the flow of the game better before he entered the contest with just under 16 minutes left in the first half.

“I think sometimes when you let a guy step back and come off the bench, he gets to see the game a little bit and that helps,” Brey said.

The lead changed hands six times in the first 10 minutes after the half, but the Irish pulled away with a 15-4 run to go up 70-59 with 3:30 remaining.

During the run, Providence went more than five minutes without a point.

“I think the key was the five-minute stretch of getting stops,” Brey said. “We made sure they were one and done. We didn’t allow them any offensive rebounds.”

Falls said Brey stressed defense in the locker room.

“We were so much better on defense [in the second half],” the senior guard said. “That’s something we talked about at halftime – were we going to stop them?”

The Friars made a late run, closing to within 78-75 with seven seconds left, but a Carter free throw and a Hillesland steal sealed the win.

Falls hit two free throws and Friars guard Brian McKenzie hit a three to provide the final margin.

Notre Dame has to turn around and play Cincinnati on the road Sunday. The Bearcats are struggling at 10-15 overall and just 1-10 in the Big East. The Irish, however, have faltered on the road this year – they are just 3-6 away from the Joyce Center this season. Sunday’s game tips off at 2 p.m.