For Notre Dame, the show does not matter as much as the end result. An Irish surge in the first half produced a double digit lead and the offensively-challenged Bulls could not overcome their shooting woes or holding on to the ball at critical junctures as Notre Dame beat South Florida 62-55. The Irish are just trying to stack wins in order to get to the Big East Tournament. The victory over the Bulls put them at 12-10 overall and 3-8 in conference play. With 12th place Rutgers losing to St. John's tonight, Notre Dame is now just a half game back of the cutoff point for teams trying to make it to New York City.
"We'll take it," head coach Mike Brey said. "We'll take it anyway we can get it now. I like that we got another league win. I thought we were good defensively to keep them in the 50's. I thought we'd be a little better offensively because we've been so good on offense. Some of that was us but some of that was them."
After connecting on almost 59 percent from the field in last Wednesday's 90-63 win over Rutgers, the week layoff may have contributed to some poor shooting. Notre Dame hit only one of their first 14 shots and just 38 percent for the ballgame. The player who had most trouble putting the ball in the hoop was Colin Falls, who misfired on all eight of his three-point attempts in the first half and was 1-of-10 for the contest.
The Bulls, second to last in the Big East in scoring offense, seemed to be their own worst enemy. A 19-4 first half run by the Irish turned a five-point deficit into a 27-15 lead. Rob Kurz came off the bench to supply some much needed offense, scoring seven points during the key stretch. Kurz finished with a double-double, pulling down 11 rebounds in addition to 10 points. South Florida helped Notre Dame command a 31-19 halftime lead by committing 11 turnovers and shooting just 8-of-26 from the field in the first half. The 11 turnovers led to 18 points for the Irish while the Bulls had zero points off of created turnovers. The 19 points are the fewest Notre Dame has allowed in a first half all season long. Florida International tallied 20 points before intermission in the Irish's 81-47 win back in December.
"After the first punch, we sort of settled down," Brey said. "Then we guarded pretty well to give us some space."
South Florida did try to make a run late. The Bulls made a charge to cut the lead to 51-43 on a free throw by Solomon Jones with just over three minutes remaining. But a Russell Carter bucket and foul on the next possession ended the comeback hopes and gave Notre Dame some life for the conference postseason tournament. The Irish got to the free throw line, shooting 25 in the second half and connecting on 17 of them. Carter, who had been averaging over 20 points the last two games, led all Irish scorers with 13 points. Chris Quinn contributed 12 points as those two and Kurz were the three Notre Dame players in double figures.
South Florida (6-18, 0-11 in the Big East) was led by James Holmes 18 points with the 12 of them coming in the second half. Jones, who Brey said was an NBA-type player, did not disappoint as he notched a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, including some highlight worthy rim rattling dunks. McHugh Mattis also racked up a double-double on 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"I don't know if we can defend them any better than we did," USF head coach Robert McCullum said. "Overall, they were more physical than we were. They were quicker to loose balls. Just when we would get some momentum going and some defensive stops, they would get a second or third shot or a loose ball."