The Irish's 21-2 run to end the first half turned a three-point deficit into a 16-point intermission lead as Notre Dame never looked back en route to a 82-58 win over South Florida. The victory sends the Irish to 16-3 on the season and 4-2 in the Big East. It also gets them back on track after Wednesday's double digit loss on the road to Villanova. They'll next travel to St. John's on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 PM. Notre Dame improved to 14-0 at home in 2006-07 and now have won 16 in a row at the Joyce Center dating back to last season. It wasn't easy at the beginning but the superior team got around to asserting their home court dominance.
"I thought defensively at the end of the first half during the 21-2 spurt, we defended pretty well," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "I thought a real key was (Zach) Hillesland, (John) Peoples and (Luke) Zeller coming in to give us energy and fresh bodies. The way we finished the first half put us in position to take care of business."
A basket by South Florida's Kentrell Gransberry put the Bulls up 24-21 with 8:59 remaining in the first half. They were being physical with Notre Dame and forcing them to work hard for shots. But the Irish found a groove and rolled with it to the tune of a 21-2 run. Rob Kurz's two free throws put Notre Dame up 25-24. It was 35-24 Irish when Russell Carter converted on a fast break layup. A made basket by Colin Falls was the last dagger in the burst and it gave Notre Dame a 42-26 halftime lead."They did a number of things," South Florida head coach Robert McCullum said about the 21-2 run. "I don't think anything surprised us. There were a lot of hustle plays, long rebounds and loose balls. Tory Jackson was seemingly involved in everything and he was a big sparkplug. That set the tone. It seemed like we stayed on 24 forever."
Give South Florida (10-10, 1-5) some credit for not backing down. Despite falling victim to the late first half run, the Bulls tried to get back into the contest. South Florida was down 48-30 when Jackson converted on a basket and a free throw. But the Bulls went on a 8-0 run to cut the lead to 10 points.
That's as close as they would get for the rest of the game. The Irish responded with their own 14-2 run to end doubt of a South Florida comeback. Instrumental in the burst was Kurz, who scored six of the 12 points. His basket and subsequent free throw pushed the lead to 60-40.
Kurz is an example of Notre Dame's successes at home and disappointments on the road. In two Big East road contests, the junior forward is a combined 3-for-13 from the field. His high rebounding game was six last Wednesday at Villanova. On Sunday, Kurz showed the Bulls he's a tough man to deal with at home. He recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Kurz was a major force in why the Irish outrebounded South Florida 45-30 and outscored them in the paint 38-34. He even nailed two shots from three-point distance. For the year, Kurz is 14-of-30 from behind the arc. Not bad for the team's best low post player, who is making a name for himself in league play.
"Rob continues to do dirty work and get loose balls and guard other people's guys and block shots," Brey said. "He hunted his jump shot. I think he can hunt it more. But we need him to shoot his shot early in the possession if it's a good shot. He's a good shooter."
Notre Dame got contributions from lot of players on Sunday. Usually, the Irish lean on Kurz and Carter to provide the offensive firepower. Kurz delivered but Carter had an off-game shooting the ball. The senior guard was just 4-of-13 from the field, good for nine points. That's nine points underneath his 18 points per game average, which was third in the conference heading into Sunday.
To make up for it, five Notre Dame players scored nine points or more against the Bulls. Falls contributed 14 points, including three made buckets from three-point range. Jackson provided 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and dished out five assists while Zach Hillesland had his second straight impressive home outing with nine points. Last week, the sophomore forward was two assists short of a triple-double. The contributions showed that Notre Dame can win comfortably despite getting an off-night from Carter.
SOUTH FLORIDA 58
Gransberry 10-17, 3-12, 23; Buckley 3-10, 2-2 11; Capko 0-1, 0-0 0; Mattis 3-7, 4-5 10; Lovett 0-2, 0-0 0; Saaka 0-0, 0-0 0; Bozeman 1-4, 2-2 4; Verdejo 0-2, 2-4 4; Howard 4-8, 0-0 8; Totals: 21-51, 13-25 58.
NOTRE DAME 82
Jackson 5-8, 1-1 11; Harden 1-2, 0-0 3; Falls 5-12, 1-2, 14; Peoples 1-4, 0-0 2; Kurz 5-10, 9-10 21; Hillesland 3-4, 3-4 9; Piller 0-0, 0-0 0; Zeller 3-4, 0-0 7; Ayers 1-3, 0-0 2; Carter 4-13, 1-1 9; Harangody 1-4, 2-2 4; Totals: 29-64, 17-21 82.