Falls Catches Fire, Helps Irish to Victory

SOUTH BEND - Frustrated about how the team was playing defensively in the first half, and realizing his team needed his outside stroke, Colin Falls decided in the locker room at halftime he was going to hunt his shot more the game's final 20 minutes.

In the Irish's first four games of the season, the senior guard had been letting the game come to him, instead of being the aggressive shooter he's been the last two seasons. With Notre Dame's new identity, everyone getting in on the scoring act, Falls has taken most of his shots in the flow of the motion offense.

Monday night, Falls thought his team needed him to step up.

Trailing Lehigh 46-44 at the break, Falls came out of intermission on fire, scoring 12 of his season-high 21 points during a 26-15 run spanning the half‘s first nine minutes, helping the Irish grab control of the game in a hard fought, 93-87 victory, at the Joyce Center. At that point, the Irish had turned the two-point halftime deficit into a 70-61 lead, capped by Falls' fourth and final 3-pointer of the night.

"Coming out in the second half I realized I needed to be little more aggressive I think in the closer games and against the better teams," he stated.

Falls was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor to start the second half and made two-of-three from the charity stripe after being fouled for the second time in the game on a 3-point attempt.

"We ran everything for him out of bounds during that stretch and he delivered all the time," Irish coach Mike Brey said.

The Irish (4-1) will need Falls to deliver consistently once Big East play begins in January.

Against Lehigh (2-6), Falls was one of the steadying forces emotionally for the Irish, as they faced a double-digit deficit in the first half after playing uninspired defense.

"That's the reason he was on the court for 37 minutes tonight," Brey said. "The way the game was going, you needed a veteran guy tonight. Certainly he was scoring the ball, but (we needed him) just to talk in the huddles, because that's the first time this group has had their backs against the wall. I thought Colin's presence as our senior captain had to be out there in the huddles and you couldn't be playing around rotating too many guys.

"One thing about Colin, this may be his first big scoring game he's had, Brey continued. "He goes in as our all-league preseason guy, the guy you talk about most. But this team's different. He's not taking as many shots; his role is a little different. Never says a word, he's just playing."

*When the Irish weren't running things through Falls, Brey emphasized to his guys that he wanted to get the ball inside. Too many times in the first half, the Irish took quick shots leading to the early deficit.

Forwards, Rob Kurz, Zach Hillesland and Luke Harangody benefited in the second half, and Notre Dame never lost control of the game. The 6-foot-9 Kurz scored a career-high 25 points, Hillesland added 11 and Harangody chipped in 10.

"I thought we did a good job of getting some easy buckets," Kurz said. "I thought we settled a little bit early in taking some long jump shots in the beginning of the game, and we did a better job moving the ball and getting some layups and some inside touches and getting to the foul line."

Kurz was money from the foul line, draining 12-of-13 attempts. He also had a game-high eight rebounds, three steals and a block.

"I didn't know he had 25 but I look at the foul line," Brey said.

"Great night offensively, but he's such a stabilizing force for us defensively too, rotating getting his hands on stuff, handling the basketball for us. I just hope he keeps getting more confident because we are really confident in him."

"He's a workhorse," Falls said of his fellow captain. "He doesn't need a lot of shots to score a lot of points. He's going to rebound, he's going to make free throws, he makes open shots, he's a real valuable guy for us."

Kurz was 6-of-9 from the floor for the night, and scored 15 points in the second half, mostly coming from the free-throw line, keeping the Irish a few baskets ahead.

*It seemed like every perimeter shot Lehigh hoisted came down through the nylon. In the first half, the Mountain Hawks made 9-of-11 to build a lead, and finished the game 14-of-19 (73.7 percent).

"They were making tough shot after tough shot, but part of that was we weren't getting through screens and we weren't showing guys on screens, we were losing guys in transition," Falls said. "We're going to have to get back to fundamentals and get back defensively."

Senior guard Jose Olivero was 5-of-8 from three in pouring in a game high 32 points.

*Lehigh coach Billy Taylor returned to Notre Dame where he was a former player and coach during the John MacLeod era. Taylor was a four-year letter winner, a captain as a senior in 1995, scoring over 570 points and pulling down 300 rebounds. Taylor was an assistant during MacLeod's last season in 1998-99, and had roughly 50-to-60 friends and family in attendance.

"First of, I'm so thankful to coach Brey for allowing me to bring our team back here," said Taylor, who‘s in his fifth year at Lehigh. "This was a very special thing for myself, without any question, to be back here at Notre Dame, a place that's very special to me, and where I spent fours years as an undergraduate competing for the Notre Dame basketball program. I have a lot of very special memories here of the University and the people. To see those people come out, and to be recognized by them, was really special. It was difficult not to get emotional, when you‘re getting ready to go into battle and you‘re trying to win a ball game."

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