The opponent is Army and they have their own current hot streak. The Black Knights bring a 9-2 record and a six-game winning steak to the Joyce Center on Thursday night to battle No. 20 Notre Dame. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. For the Irish, it'll be the last contest before some time off. After leaving for break, Notre Dame next plays on December 28th against Rider. It always leaves a good taste when players can rest for a few days with the luxury of a possible nine-game winning streak.
"We want to finish this segment positively and then take a break," head coach Mike Brey said. "We'll jump back into this thing after Christmas."
On Wednesday, the Irish got a battle from a game Portland bunch. Despite the Pilots 2-10 record entering the contest, Notre Dame had to lean heavily on the scoring of Russell Carter and the inside presence of Rob Kurz to pull away late. Carter recorded a career-high 28 points, 18 of them in the second half. The senior guard has been dominant since his 27-point output versus Alabama back on December 7th. Carter leads the team in scoring, racking up 18 PPG. This is also good for third in the Big East.
Kurz is a double-double machine, earning his fourth of the season with a 21-point, 11-rebound performance. The junior forward got to the free line as well, hitting 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. As a team, the Irish have gone to the free throw line 80 times in the past two games, hitting 64 of them. Notre Dame is second in the conference in free throw percentage, nailing 75 percent from the charity stripe.
Senior guard Colin Falls has sat out the past two games because of shock therapy treatment he received to help the plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Falls is averaging 13.8 PPG and is a co-captain of the team along with Kurz. He moved around in practice on Monday and did a little more on Tuesday. Brey said Falls is questionable for the Army contest but a definite go for Rider.
"I've played enough games without him," Brey said. "I want him back. We're not going to be dumb about it."
Falls might be needed against this tough Army bunch. The Black Knights have won six in a row, the longest winning streak in school history since the 1984-85 season. They are off to their best start since 1976-77 and have already exceeded last year's win total. Head coach Jim Crews, in his fifth year at Army, has his team playing excellent defense. The Black Knights are allowing 55 PPG, good for first in the Patriot League. They hold teams to 36 percent shooting from the field, also tops in the league. Army is also first in the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage defense, rebounding margin and assists. A cakewalk for Notre Dame is not in order on Thursday.
"They are a difficult team to play against because they really spread you out," Brey said. "It's going to be long possessions like (Tuesday). Portland really held the ball on us. It was ball screen, ball screen and end of the clock. It takes a certain discipline and mental toughness. Army is going to do the same thing. They're not going to guard Zach (Hillesland). They're not going to guard Tory (Jackson). They are going to stand in the lane and full front. They're going to jam it and make us make shots. They are well coached."
Army has a one-two punch in the same manner Notre Dame has had from Carter and Kurz this season. Jarell Brown, a 6'2" guard, leads the team in scoring with a 17 PPG average. The junior can light it up from outside, totaling 33 made three-pointers for the year. This is 11 more than Matt Bell, who is second on Army in scoring, averaging 15 PPG. The 6'0" senior guard is shooting a mind-boggling 59 percent (22-of-37) from behind the arc. The best big man down low is freshman Chris Walker. The 6'8" forward averages nine PPG to go along with six rebounds a contest.