"I definitely like to put time in for my game," Kurz said. "It's an honor whenever someone says you like to put time in on your game and work hard. I think that's a great compliment from Coach (Brey)."
The dedication to his game paid off huge dividends Sunday afternoon as Kurz keyed a second half run to put the contest out of reach as Notre Dame downed Lafayette 84-66 at the Joyce Center. Kurz finished the game with 18 points and eight rebounds as the Irish opened up their 2005-06 season with a win. Colin Falls and Chris Quinn both chipped in 15 points and Torin Francis hauled down 14 rebounds. But it was the play of Kurz that made Brey smile after the game.
"I was very encouraged by Rob Kurz's effort in a game," Brey said. "We've seen this in practice but I thought he was ready to compete and flying all over the place. I was happy to see that."
Notre Dame was leading 50-37 early on in the second half when Kurz had a quick offensive burst. A three-pointer by the sophomore was followed by two consecutive rebound putbacks to turn a 13-point lead into a 20-point Irish advantage at 57-37. Lafayette (0-2) never got closer than 14 points the rest of the game.
"I'm not really even worried about how many points I scored," Kurz said. "I just tried to go out and be aggressive and if I got a shot, take it. Coach really wanted us to get on the offensive boards. I got a couple of put backs in the game. I think that changed the outlook of the game a little bit."
"He got on us," Francis said of Brey about not crashing the boards on offense. "We were rebounding on the defensive end but he told us to get on the offensive glass. He thought we could get some offensive boards. Second half, Rob had a big spurt and he was aggressive on the boards. Crashing the boards is one of our keys and we were successful with it today."
A slow first half start by Notre Dame allowed the Leopards to stick around and make this a competitive game for awhile. A Ted Detmer basket put Lafayette up 23-22 with under eight minutes to go in the half. That's when Falls got hot from the perimeter. Three three-point shots by the junior guard spurred a 17-3 run and gave the Irish a 39-26 lead going into halftime. Quinn notched the final five points of the half as Notre Dame used that momentum to pull away in the final 20 minutes.
Rick Cornett had a perfect shooting day from the field, scoring 10 points and making all three shots he attempted. Russell Carter started and added nine points, most of them on aggressive drives to the basket. For Lafayette, Bilal Abdullah led the Leopards with 14 points while Detmer added 13 and Everest Schmidt contributed 10.
All four freshmen saw action on Sunday. Kyle McAlarney led the group with seven points on just 1-of-6 shooting while Luke Zeller's debut did not go as planned. The 6-11 freshman was in foul trouble for most of the game and eventually picked up his fifth and final one late in the second half. Zeller did not score and committed four turnovers. Ryan Ayres notched his first career points as a Notre Dame player (finished with two points in 12 minutes of action) and Zach Hillesland was inserted into the contest with three minutes to go.
"Some of our young guys were young guys," Brey said. "I feel for Luke a little bit but a couple of his fouls he crushed their players and did not let them get an easy look at the basket. We got to give our body up there. We have enough big guys to have someone being in foul trouble. Kyle, being that he only has practiced for three days, has a lot of energy. We got to keep coaching him. He's a fearless guy. He does make some plays off the dribble.
"Zeller and McAlarney's mistakes tonight were mistakes of attacking. We're doing something hard and tough. They were playing just a little too hard. I think Ayres is a pretty steady guy. We put him in a key time and he moves the ball and feeds the post and makes a short jump shot. He was in good position on defense most of the time. Then you are a little deeper with playing more guys."
"It felt great," McAlarney said of his first career game in an Irish uniform. "It's good to come out of the tunnel and hear the Notre Dame fight song playing. It gives you chills. To get the first game out of the way and get the butterflies out of your system, now we just have to play our game."
Notre Dame must quickly prepare for their next game as they host Hofstra on Tuesday at the Joyce Center. Hofstra went 21-9 last season and will enter South Bend with a win under their belt. The Pride beat Florida International 64-51 to win their opener and will try to spring an upset over a major conference foe. Brey has complete respect for the Hofstra team.
"We didn't talk much about Lafayette," Brey said about the post-game locker room talk to his players. "This is a big game. They won 21 games. They got old guys on the perimeter that are confident and they called us for the game. I told our guys they called us for the game. You can tell where their frame of mind is at. If we're fortunate enough to get it, it'll go in the good win category. Not everybody understands that now. That would be like a league win."
"At this point, this game we just played has to be wiped away," Quinn said. "Hofstra is a very good team and a very underrated team. There're going to come in here and give us a battle. We definitely have to focus on that game now."