New York, New York

Two years ago, a clutch three by Colin Falls propelled the Fighting Irish to a victory in the Big East Tournament. Tonight, he did it FOR the Big East Tourmanent.

Falls' 30-foot bomb with just under a minute remaining helped seal a 66-61 victory against the Blue Demons of DePaul, qualifying Notre Dame for a Big East tournament bid next week in New York City. It was his first made shot of the contest, coming after an 0-3 performance in the first 39 minutes of the game.

"We ran one of our sets, and I got a good look," Falls said after the game. "Coach Brey's been confident with me. He called a play to get it inside with me being the second option. I ran through a staggered [screen] at the top, and I got open."

"He was struggling early, and it was hard to get him loose," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "The one thing about him is he's a fearless guy, and at any time, he can bang one in. He knocked down that three and then the free throws, and then he defended their three-point shot."

"He's got so much toughness at the end of the game," Rob Kurz said. "He's always willing the take the big shot, and most of the time he hits them."

"He's been through a lot of big-time games here," agreed Chris Quinn. "The minute he took that shot, I knew it was going in. He's one of those players that no matter what type of shot he takes, you think it's going in."

Falls' late-game shooting complemented a 22-point performance by Russell Carter, who took over the game in the second half with drives to the basket and a trey of his own from the left baseline (on a Falls assist).

"Russell is a heck of a story," Brey enthused. "He's developed into a crunch-time guy. He was guarding Mejia, he was going to have to make some shots and score, and he rebounded. We haven't had a guy be able to go up for a rebound like that since Humphrey. He's a very confident young man."

A week after having played tight against Marquette, the Irish stayed cool down the stretch, with the Demons coming close but never able to take the lead. Quinn's double-double and calm leadership was credited by many on the team, who wanted to win one for Quinn and his fellow seniors, Torin Francis and Rick Cornett, both of whom started the contest.

"We couldn't lose on Senior Night," said Carter. "I saw the look on Donnie McGrath's face [after the Providence game], and felt their pain. You want to go out a winner on your home floor. You can't get that back. These guys have taught Colin and me how to be leaders."

Falls' shot released the pressure valve, and everyone in the Joyce Center finally sensed that a close win -- Notre Dame's first in conference by five points or less -- was finally in the offing. In a season beset by close losses and missed opportunities, the Irish resisted the urge to follow the quick and easy path, and put a 5-2 finish together after their 1-8 conference start.

"A lot of teams might have quit when they were 1-8 and losing games the way we were losing," admitted Quinn. "For us to keep playing and keep battling every night was awesome. Coach Brey did a great job of keeping us relaxed. Against Providence and DePaul, it came down to the last five minutes of the game and we were able to pull them out. It's definitely something for us to build on."

"We're a tight-knit group," Carter said. "The coaches weren't going to let us fall apart. We all worked so many hours. I don't think we would have been able to look each other in the face if we'd given up."

While the Irish will have to wait until tomorrow to learn their opponent in the first round, the pressures of the last week have left them ready for New York. And now that they'll be there, it's a chance to do damage.

"Last Saturday [against Marquette] could have been a dagger for us," said Brey. "When we went to Providence, our Big East tournament was starting. You have to be realistic when you're 1-8. but we can talk about dreaming big dreams now. You can play for an NCAA Tournament berth. I want them dreaming about that."

"Wednesday was a Big East tournament game for us," Falls said. "We knew we had to keep winning or our season was going to end. These were our two play-in games."

"I feel good," Quinn asserted. "I'm ready to play some more. We've got no time to be tired, because we're going to New York. The way we did it might have been a little unorthodox, but we scrapped our way to it."


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