Falls almost outscored the Black Knights personally before halftime. The senior scored 18 first half points on 7-of-7 shooting while Army mustered just 20 points. Falls was the driving force behind No. 20 Notre Dame's 88-47 blowout victory over the Black Knights Thursday at the Joyce Center. The win moves the Irish to 10-1 on the year, including winners of nine in a row. They'll host Rider next on December 28th. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.
The Irish made some history in the process. In addition to being the longest winning steak in 20 years, this Notre Dame team tied the 2002-03 squad's mark of reaching the 10-win plateau the earliest in the 102-year history of the basketball program.
"I was really happy with our focus," head coach Mike Brey said. "These can be tricky games right before Christmas. But I'm not surprised by our focus. This is a team that practiced well during exam week and came out of exam week sharp. Certainly, having Colin back sharpened our awareness and it's good to have him back."
What didn't Notre Dame do well in the first half? The Irish were up 46-20 at intermission, continuing the trend of dominating teams they should be dominating. They shot 53 percent from the field in the first half, including an incredible 64 percent from three-point land on 9-of-14 shooting. Notre Dame controlled the glass, outrebounding the Black Knights 21-9 before halftime.
"I was really proud of our focus again," Brey said of the first half effort. "I emphasized that. We talked about that. The trap you can fall into in a game like this. I showed the tape of the Army game two years ago. But this group has a different karma around them and they know what they've invested already to not to be prepared. They are good at locking in on things and good at being students."
This contest was supposed to be different. Army came into the game 9-2 and with a six-game winning streak. It was the longest winning streak for the Black Knights since 1984-85. But Army quickly found out that Notre Dame was not New York Purchase or New York Maritime. These were the last two opponents for the Black Knights, beaten by a combined margin of 193-82.
Falls showed early that he was on fire. The senior guard came out and scored 12 of Notre Dame's first 15 points to stake the Irish to a nine-point lead. Falls made it 31-15 on another bomb from behind the arc. At that point, the only question was whether he would outscore Army before halftime. His only fault in the first half was a missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one attempt.
The 24 points for the game bested the season-high of 21 set in the win over Alabama. Another positive sign was the shooting percentage. In six of the eight games Falls has played in this year, he's shot under 50 percent from the field. Tonight, he upped the 39 percent shooting average he had coming into the contest by hitting 9-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 from three-point distance. Needless to say, Falls was in the shooter's zone.
"Yesterday, he was rolling," Brey said of Falls in practice. "He was so anxious to play that he was shot outside of a cannon. I'm not surprised. He's back with a vengeance. It certainly was a great shot in the arm. That helped our focus and timing having him back."
Another reason for the blowout was the intense defense displayed by Notre Dame. The Black Knights season-low for points was back on November 21st in a 65-56 loss to Cornell. They were nine under that mark on Thursday. The Irish held Army to 34 percent shooting and just 3-of-14 from behind the arc. The Black Knight's best player, Jarell Brown, had been averaging 17 points a game. On Thursday, Notre Dame shut him down to just five points on 2-of-10 shooting. The Irish had it working on both ends of the court.
"We got beat in every which way," Army head coach Jim Crews said. "Notre Dame played harder than us and they competed harder than us and they played smarter than us. Falls seemed like he hit every shot there for about 30 minutes."
Army had been allowing teams to score only 58 points a game and 36 percent shooting, both good for first the Patriot League. But Notre Dame showed proved their offensive ability is much superior to the teams the Black Knights have played so far this year. The Irish hit a season-high 15 three-pointers, two off the school record, and hit 52 percent of their shots from the field. Eight different players on the Notre Dame roster hit a basket from behind the arc.
Notre Dame controlled the paint. For the game, the Irish bested Army on the boards 45-22. Freshman Luke Harangody powered his way to double-double, his third of the year. Harangody pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds to go along with 10 points. Rob Kurz missed out on his fourth double-double in a row but still had a solid outing. The junior forward scored nine points and hauled in seven rebounds. Russell Carter, who has been torching the nets as of late, cooled down a bit. The senior had 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Maybe the best performance after Falls and Harangody belonged to Kyle McAlarney. The sophomore point guard scored nine points but dished out eight assists. The Irish assisted on 27 of the 31 made shots.
Brewer 0-1, 0-0 0; Walker 2-5, 0-2 4; Richard 0-2, 0-0 0; Bell 4-6, 5-6 15; Sinning 0-0, 0-0 0; Thompson 1-2, 3-4 5; Zastoupil 3-4, 2-2 8; Nelson 1-2, 1-3 3; Jackson 0-1, 0-0 0; Koszuta 0-1, 0-0 0; Carter 1-3, 0-0 3; Brown 2-10, 1-2 5; Moonshower 0-3, 0-0 0; Sewell 0-0, 0-0 0; Bates 2-5, 0-0 4; Williams 0-1, 0-0 0; Totals: 16-46, 12-19 47.
NOTRE DAME 88
Kurz 4-7, 0-0 9; Zeller 1-5, 0-0 3; Carter 4-11, 2-3 12; Falls 9-11, 0-1 24; McAlarney 2-4, 3-4 9; Jackson 1-3, 0-1 3; Harden 0-1, 0-1 0; Peoples 1-2, 0-0 3; Hillesland 2-2, 2-3 6; Piller 0-0, 0-0 0; Andree 1-2, 0-0 2; Ayers 3-4, 0-0 7; Harangody 3-7, 4-5 10; Totals: 31-59, 11-18 88.