Up by six at intermission and playing without senior captain Colin Falls for the second straight contest, the Irish turned to Carter and he delivered, scoring 18 of his career-high 28 points in the second half as No. 20 Notre Dame pulled away late with a 86-69 victory over Portland. The win moves the Irish to 9-1 on the year and winners of eight in a row after losing the second game of the year to No. 16 Butler by three points. Notre Dame next plays host to Army on Thursday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Joyce Center.
On paper, the 2-10 Pilots should have been no match for a surging Irish team. But the upset in college basketball always looks around the corner. Carter, along with another double-double from Rob Kurz, prevented the occurrence from happening.
"I thought Portland, like I thought they would, dug into us and defended us well and physically the first 20 minutes," head coach Mike Brey said. "We were knocked back a little bit and that's a good thing because we weren't flowing offensively and had to grind and dig. In the second half, we got into a better rhythm offensively and were pretty solid defensively to win the game. I liked the fact that it wasn't pleasant and it wasn't perfect on the offensive end. We're going to have nights like that."
Coming out of halftime, Notre Dame had only hit two three-pointers in the first 20 minutes of action. That number doubled in the first two minutes of the second half. After Kyle McAlarney made it 38-32 on a long distance bomb, Carter scored nine of the team's next 10 points, the last one on a three-pointer to make it 48-37 Notre Dame. When Portland's Darren Cooper nailed a basket from behind the arc to cut the Irish lead to 56-51, the senior guard delivered once again from three-point land to put Notre Dame up eight. The Pilots would not get closer than six the rest of the contest.
"I said at halftime, this was good for us," Brey said about having to battle. "It's not show time. It's not a highlight film. We're going to have to dig and scratch and claw. I asked the older guys how many games in league play are going to be fistfights, grind it and claw it. I thought that was good. I thought we did a good job of spacing the floor offensively to start the second half."
Carter has been on fire since the Alabama contest. After recording a career-high 27 points in the win over the Crimson Tide, he's continued his hot streak. Carter notched 21 on 7-of-11 shooting in a victory over Elon last Saturday night. On Tuesday, he was better in the points category to earn his second career-high in three games. In the second half, four of his five made baskets came from long distance.
"Russ has been great," Brey said. "He hit some big ones for us, some bail out shots when we were eying for the bucket. It's another step forward in his development. We want to get him going."
Lately, it's been the big two for Notre Dame. Carter has been the scoring presence. Junior Rob Kurz does a little bit of everything. The forward recorded his fifth double-double of the season and fourth in five contests with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Kurz has scored in double figures in all but one game this season when he notched seven points in the loss to Butler. The big thing for Kurz is his ability to get to the free throw line. In the last contest versus Elon, he was 9-of-11 from the charity stripe. On Tuesday, Kurz was even better, shooting 11-of-12 from the free throw line.
"You know Kurz is going to be there," Brey said. "He's almost robotic about it now when he comes out and does his thing."
Some credit has to be given to Portland. The Pilots fall to 2-11 on the year but gave a gutty performance in front of the Joyce Center crowd. Portland led for a good part of the first half. Their biggest lead was at 16-11 when Chris Jackson nailed a basket. The margin of error for an upset on the road against a ranked team is small and Pilots head coach Eric Raveno did his team no favor when he drew a technical foul in the first half with his team tied at 27-all. Kurz proceeded to hit two free throws and Portland never had the game tied or controlled the lead for the rest of the contest. Still, the Pilots scored 12 points above their average and shot 50 percent for the game. For the year, they had been averaging just 39 percent from the field.
"Our focus is to be as sound and competitive a basketball team every night out," Raveno said. "We've focused on defense and rebounding. I said there are two clichés I think I read on a Hallmark card. Two things you can control are effort and attitude. Those are reflected in defense and rebounding. Let's make them prove that to us.
"They probably did that, as competitive guy as I am. They did a nice job and are a good basketball team. We appreciate the opportunity to compete against a team like them, and in my opinion, a good team right now with potential to be great. They have a lot of pieces and a lot of balance and are skilled in a lot of different positions."
The biggest disparity in the contest was at the free throw line. Notre Dame got to the charity stripe 42 times compared to just 12 for Portland. The Irish connected on 34 of them, good for 80.9 percent. Carter was 8-of-9 from the free throw line while freshman Luke Harangody hit 8-of-9 to go along with his 12-point performance.
Niedermeyer 3-5, 1-1 8; Watson 4-7, 1-2 9; Jones 4-5, 0-0 8; Field 2-8, 4-4 8; McTear 6-11, 0-0 14; Cooper 4-6, 0-0 11; Thompson 0-1, 0-0 0; Ito 0-0, 0-0 0; Jackson 3-3, 3-5 9; Emerson 0-1, 0-0 0; Carter 0-1, 0-0 0; Sullivan 1-6, 0-0 2; Totals: 27-54, 9-12 69.
NOTRE DAME 86
Kurz 5-10, 11-12 21; Hillesland 2-4, 2-3 6; Zeller 0-4, 0-0 0; McAlarney 3-8, 1-2 8; Carter 8-16, 7-8 28; Jackson 1-2, 5-6 8; Harden 0-0, 0-0 0; Peoples 0-0, 0-0 0; Piller 0-0, 0-2 0; Andree 0-0, 0-0 0; Ayres 1-2, 0-0 3; Harangody 2-8, 8-9 12; Totals: 22-54, 34-42 86.