Falls and Kurz contributed a combined 46 points from inside and out as the Irish moved to 4-1 on the season with a 93-87 victory over the stingy Mountain Hawks. Notre Dame's next game is slated for this Wednesday night in South Bend against Winston-Salem State. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. On Monday, the Irish overcame a great effort from Mountain Hawk guard Jose Olivero and a 13-point first half deficit behind hot shooting from a variety of Notre Dame players.
"You get off to that kind of start and do everything wrong," head coach Mike Brey said. "But I think you have to give Lehigh some credit. They came in and played real fearlessly. They had a tough stretch before coming in here. They were difficult to guard and shot the heck out of it. Early in the season, it was another experience to have our backs against the wall and have to find some different lineups and different guys to dig you out of a hole and win a game. Hopefully, you grow up from that."
In their three previous wins, Notre Dame had dominated opponents before half. The smallest lead at intermission was a 46-30 advantage in the victory over Lafayette. But a fellow Patriot League member, Lehigh, came out on fire. At one point, the Mountain Cats owned a 34-21 lead on a monster dunk by Zahir Carrington. The Irish fired back, going on a 13-2 run, the last points on a Falls's three-pointer. But Olivero hit one of his own long distance bombs at the buzzer to give Lehigh a 46-44 halftime lead. Notre Dame shot an impressive 53 percent before the half but the Mountain Cats 9-of-11 performance from behind the arc was a big reason for the early surge."I wasn't going to sit there and call timeouts or rant and rave," Brey said about the first half. "I told them we're going to have to be better defensively. On a night like tonight, thank god you're a good offensive team because I thought we were pretty good. Tonight, you were going to have to score some points. They were in a rhythm."
The contest looked like it would go down to one of the final possessions. In the first six minutes of the second half, there were seven lead changes between the teams. Olivero hit a three-pointer to make it 53-52. Luke Harangody made a shot to swing it back to the Irish 54-53. Olivero connected again for a 55-54 Lehigh advantage. Russell Carter made it 56-55 Notre Dame. Back-and-forth it went.
That's when Falls and Kurz made their presence known. Falls scored seven of the Irish's nine points in the decisive run to open the contest up 70-61. Before the spurt, Falls thought he was fouled on the defensive end when a Mountain Cat player laid a tough screen on him. The senior guard made Lehigh pay in the end. It's a season-high for Falls, who had been quiet so far this season. He did score 17 points in the loss to Butler but this clearly was his best game of the season.
"I said out there on the radio, ‘How bout if you're Colin Falls?'" Brey said. "He's the senior captain, pre-season Big East honorable mention and the most visible guy coming back. All of a sudden, our team is different. We're playing a little different. He's not quite playing off of two points guards who are driving and pitching to him.
"You know what? He's never said a word. He's third in shots taken. He's never said a word. He feeds the post. He brings Harangody along. He guards guys. He takes charges. Tonight, what you saw is what he's always had here: big buckets at key times."
Kurz did a little bit of everything. The junior forward hit shots from inside and out, in half court sets and on the break. The 25 points scored on Monday were a career high. He also go to the free throw line 13 times, hitting 12 of them from the charity strip. In the game, the Irish shot 54 percent and had a 17-3 advantage on second chance points. Russell Carter chipped in 14 points while Zach Hillesland provided energy off the bench with 11 points and seven rebounds.
The loss did not diminish the effort from Olivero. The senior guard from Fairfax, VA put on a performance on Monday, scoring a game-high 32 points. Olivero came into the contest averaging 19 points a game but easily bested the number. He hit five shots from three-point land and had his way with the Notre Dame defense. The 87 points is the most allowed by the Irish this season.
"He was first-team all league for us last year as a junior," head coach and Notre Dame alum Billy Taylor said about Olivero. "He led the league in scoring. I think he's a special player. He's an interesting young man in that he's very similar to what we had when I was here at Notre Dame with Pat Garrity. Pat Garrity was our best player every year and he was the most improved player every year. Jose's been like that for us. He's been our best player and he's our hardest worker. The sky is the limit for him."
LEHIGH 87- Carrington 2-4, 1-1 5; Mgebroff 4-5, 1-1 9; Hall 3-7, 0-0 8; Neptune 9-14, 0-0 22; Olivero 11-16, 5-7 32; White 0-5, 0-0 0; Shamis 1-1, 0-0 3; Page 0-2, 0-0 0; Gourlay 0-0, 0-0 0; Szalachowski 0-0, 0-0 0; Anderson 3-4, 0-0 8; Totals: 33-58, 7-9 87.
NOTRE DAME 93- Kurz 6-9, 12-13 25; Zeller 1-1, 2-4 5; Falls 6-11, 5-6 21; McAlarney 2-7, 0-0 4; Carter 6-14, 2-4 14; Jackson 1-1, 0-0 3; Hillesland 4-5, 3-4 11; Ayers 0-0, 0-0 0; Harangody 4-7, 2-2 10; Totals: 30-55, 26-33 93.