A scintillating offensive performance, led by career-highs from both Russell Carter and Kyle McAlarney, powered Notre Dame to a 99-85 win over the Crimson Tide. It's the second straight win for the Irish over a ranked opponent. The team will take over a week's time off to let the players finish their final exams next week. The next contest is on December 16th at the Joyce against Elon. Some may have thought the Terrapin victory was a flash in the pan for Notre Dame (7-1). The performance on Thursday versus a previously undefeated Alabama team left little doubt for those that watched that this Irish team can compete with the big boys on a consistent basis. It was a such a big win that the Irish student body rushed the court at the sound of the final buzzer.
"What an atmosphere," head coach Mike Brey said. "That was fun. First of all, Alabama is real talented. That's a great win for us. I think they'll go on to have a great year and no one will cheer harder for them than me. I'm really proud of our group. It's been a heck of a week and tonight we grew up some more. We got hit with some punches and we kept grinding and fighting. Again, our offensive efficiency was going to have to win it for us."
The key stretch for the Irish occurred midway through the second half. The Crimson Tide had just taken a 66-62 advantage on an offensive rebound putback from Richard Hendrix. Notre Dame showed Alabama they weren't going to back down. Luke Harangody's inside basket cut it to 66-64. Back-to-back three-pointers from Carter and McAlarney pushed the Irish ahead and the sophomore point guard made it 72-66 on a floater in the lane. McAlarney finished the game with 20 points. His previous high was the last contest in the win over Maryland where he scored 18 points. After a slow offensive start to the season, McAlarney has picked his game up in a big fashion.
"He's a fearless guy," Brey said. "He's unafraid. This week, the light bulb is on between running the team and scoring with the ball. I think he was learning with that and struggling at times. But I think he's getting there and we need him to score."
Alabama made one final furious run. Down 85-75, the Crimson Tide went on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to three points with just three minutes to go. This is when Carter put the finishing touches on not only Alabama but possibly the best performance of his career. After the Crimson Tide missed a layup off of a steal, the senior guard nailed a three-pointer from the right wing to push the lead to 88-82. Carter made it 90-82 when he drained an off-balance shot from just inside the arc. After Harangody stole the ball and converted a three-point play for a 93-82 Irish lead, Carter wrapped it up with a minute and a half remaining with his fifth steal of the contest.
"Right before (Alonzo) Gee shot his foul shots, a couple of guys said we've been in this position before," Carter said. "It was like it was last year. But it's not last year. It's a new season and we're not going to lose composure. We've been through this. It's about time we win."
The senior did a little bit of everything on Thursday, nailing six baskets from long-distance range and a few more via the power dunk route for a total of 27 points. Carter also played defense for most of the night on Alabama's premier player, Ronald Steele, who was held to 4-of-13 shooting from the field.
"He is an explosive offensive guy," Brey said about Carter. "I thought tonight his shot selection was good for the most part. Here's the thing: the shot he took from the baseline to ice it, in the coaching manual that's a bad shot. But he's got to take it because he's on a roll and you have to cut him loose. That's the way the night was going. I thought he played great defense on Steele, hit some big shots and got a couple of defensive rebounds when we were struggling in there."
Alabama had some big, athletic forwards and it showed in the rebound numbers. The Crimson Tide outrebounded Notre Dame 45-32 but only obtained a 30-26 advantage in points in the paint. What killed Alabama was points off of turnovers, where the Irish outscored them 29-9. Also, the Crimson Tide defense had been holding teams to 58 PPG. On Thursday, Notre Dame bested that number by 41 points. Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said afterwards that the Irish were a NCAA Tournament caliber team.
"What a great college basketball game," Gottfried said. "That's one of the best college basketball games I've ever been involved with. You have to give Notre Dame credit. They played real well. Mike had them ready to play. They stepped up and hit big shots. Carter was fabulous."
The contributions came from everywhere. Senior Colin Falls scored 20 points, most of them at the free throw line. He got to the charity stripe 13 times, connecting on all but one. Rob Kurz didn't shoot well (5-of-13) but earned his fifth career double-double with 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Off the bench, Harangody provided some more inside presence with nine points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
Riley 7-13, 2-2 18; Gee 7-12, 7-11 24; Davidson 6-18, 0-1 12; Hendrix 3-8, 3-3 9; Steele 4-13, 2-2 13; Torrance 0-0, 2-2 2; Hollinger 1-2, 0-0 3; Jemison 1-3, 2-2 4; Coleman 0-0, 0-0 0; Totals: 29-69, 18-23 85.
NOTRE DAME 99
Kurz 5-13, 4-4 14; Zeller 3-3, 0-0 6; Falls 3-8, 12-13 20; McAlarney 7-9, 2-2 20; Carter 9-16, 3-6 27; Jackson 1-4, 1-2, 3; Hillesland 0-0, 0-2 0; Harangody 4-9, 1-1 9; Totals: 32-62, 23-30 99.