Irish Look For First Big East Win

Notre Dame is close. A defensive stop here or a key shot there could have made things a lot different for the Irish. But three Big East games have produced three conference losses, all by six points or less. The five total losses have been by a combined 32 points for an average of 6.4 per contest. The league is loaded from top to bottom and no team wants to start in a hole.

The hole can get deeper or shallower on Saturday night as Notre Dame welcomes in Providence to the Joyce ACC. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. in South Bend. For the Irish, it's a chance to get their first Big East win of the year and snap a three-game losing streak after starting the season 9-2. Success in conference play usually means holding serve at home and playing .500 ball on the road. The Friars enter the contest 7-6 and 0-2 in league play. A loss here would send Notre Dame spiraling even further down the conference standings and be only the second time in the Irish's 11-year association with the Big East that they started out 0-4. Head coach Mike Brey is not at the point of calling the game a must win.

"I'm at a point where we have to have a must-good practice today and tomorrow," Brey said. "We need to get a league win, don't get me wrong. But January is still pretty early in college basketball. I don't want to de-emphasize Saturday. You have to try to stay even keel through the next eight weeks."

Providence, who has been off for a week now, comes into the game also looking for their first Big East win. The Friars lost their league opener at Georgetown 72-62 and followed that up with a 72-67 home defeat to 10th ranked Louisville. They are led by 6-11 center Randall Hanke. The sophomore is Providence's leading scorer by averaging almost 16 points and five rebounds a contest. He is complimented on the perimeter by Donnie McGrath. The senior guard is scoring at a 15 PPG clip and gets some help from 5-10 freshman Sharaud Curry's 10.8 PPG average. Another freshman, 6-7 forward Geoff McDermott, provides versatility on the wing and racks up 11.8 PPG and hauls down 8.6 RPG.

"They are almost a completely different team than last year," Brey said. "They have a lot of young guys. They're similar to some teams in that they play some 2-3 zone, which we saw against Syracuse. Hanke is leading in field goal percentage and he's a talented kid. He really got going against us last year. McGrath is McNamara-like. He's a real good guard."

One Irish player who has been lighting it up the past two ballgames has been Colin Falls. The junior guard got off to a shaky start in the league opener at Pittsburgh by shooting just 3-of-13 from the field and 3-of-10 from three-point range. Falls has rebounded quite nicely the past few games against DePaul and Syracuse. In those contests, the junior is 14-of-24 from the field, including a steady 12-of-21 (57 percent) from behind the arc for an average of 22 points (26 vs. the Blue Demons and 18 against the Orange). Falls, who struggled earlier in the season with his shot, was fighting off an injury but now appears to be full strength.

"He's a pure guy and not a streaky guy like he showed earlier in the year," Brey said. "He's probably in a comfort zone with how we're playing and knows where to get shots at and how to play off of Chris Quinn and Torin (Francis) and Russell Carter and Kyle McAlarney. Plus, he was fighting a foot strain early on that we really didn't talk about much that was affecting him. Now, he's pretty healthy."


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