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Men’s Basketball: Last second demons

Chris Hine | Friday, February 9, 2007

CHICAGO – With Notre Dame trailing 67-66, Irish forward Rob Kurz grabbed the rebound off forward Luke Zeller’s miss with less than three seconds left.

Enter Blue Demons forward Wilson Chandler.

Chandler blocked Kurz’s shot and time expired Thursday, giving DePaul a key conference victory and dropping the Irish to 1-5 on the road against the Big East and 6-5 overall in league play.

The Demons sophomore big man, who finished with a game-high 25 points and 14 rebounds, made contact with the ball – and Kurz’s lower body. Kurz and Irish coach Mike Brey looked for a foul call, but received nothing.

“I definitely think I got fouled, but you know, what are you going to do,” Kurz said. “You can’t harp on one play. It’s in the referee’s hands, and you’re on the road and tough things happen.”

Brey said he designed the final play for Jackson to get into the lane and make something happen off the dribble.

“They defended [the last play] very well. Having said that, we still had some opportunities with rebounds and stuff,” Brey said. “Usually a put-back gets you the win or the tie in those situations. We had two of them and couldn’t convert it.”

The Irish (18-6 overall) grabbed a 66-63 lead with 2:04 remaining in the game, thanks to a 3-pointer by guard Tory Jackson. A rebound bucket by DePaul forward Marcus Heard cut the lead to one.

Still, the Irish had a 66-65 lead with 27 seconds left and the shot clock turned off. That meant the Blue Demons (14-11, 5-6 Big East) would have to foul. Notre Dame put the ball in the hands of its best free-throw shooter, guard Colin Falls, near half court.

DePaul guard Draelon Burns stole the ball from Kurz and found a streaking Chandler down court, who slammed in the 67-66 go-ahead bucket for the Blue Demons.

“Certainly they were in a situation where I thought they were going to foul and probably would have sometime in that sequence,” Brey said. “I guess we lost the ball somehow. That’s the guy I want shooting free throws. So I felt pretty good when he caught it 70 feet from the basket.”

Falls led the Irish with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, while Kurz – who was back in the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a sprained ankle Jan. 27 against Villanova – had 15 points and nine rebounds.

Chandler earned the Endall Smith Award as the game’s MVP and gave the Irish fits inside all night.

“[Chandler’s] so active. Physically he’s at a whole other level – a very, very talented young man,” Brey said. “He plays with such a nice demeanor. He never gets rattled. There’s not a better raw talent in our league than this kid.”

Notre Dame got off to a fast start, utilizing offensive rebounds and Blue Demons turnovers to take an 11-0 lead. Irish forward Luke Harangody had four points during that stretch, but would not score the rest of the night. He finished with four points on 2-for-10 shooting and nine rebounds.

The Blue Demons didn’t panic, attacking the Irish defense to get high-percentage shots and get back in the game. They went on a 10-0 run to take a 24-20 lead with 10:24 left in the first half.

After that, DePaul went cold, converting two of its last 11 field-goal attempts in the half. But the Irish could not capitalize.

Notre Dame’s lead never got higher than three the rest of the game.

The second half saw the teams go back and forth. DePaul started hot again, grabbing a 48-42 lead with 14:36 left, but then cooled off. The Irish chipped away, and then retook the lead 55-54 with 8:34 remaining, but would not be on the upside of the scoreboard until Jackson’s 3-pointer with just over two minutes left.

Offensively, the Irish shot 41 percent for the game, but only 7-for-22 beyond the arc and scored only five bench points to DePaul’s 20. The Blue Demons kept Notre Dame guard Russell Carter in check, limiting him to just nine points, while the Irish cracked down on the defensive glass, allowing just six second-chance points. Burns grabbed seven rebounds to go along with 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting for the Blue Demons.

The Irish wrapped up their three-game road trip with a 1-2 record and will have a week off before facing Providence next Thursday at the Joyce Center.

“Big East basketball is humbling, but I still like our position, even though this one hurts,” Brey said. “We got a week to get a little healthy first and then work on some things before Providence.”