The contest was all nodded up at 55 apiece. But the Irish went on a 15-4 run on the back of Russell Carter's three-point shooting, Zach Hillesland's all-around play and some clutch defensive shutdowns. Providence had 59 points with 9:12 remaining and they were down four. The Friars next scored with 3:25 to go but the damage was done. In addition to playing key defense in this stretch, Notre Dame forced Providence into 13 second half turnovers. These were the two highest scoring teams in the Big East. It wasn't going to be a 50-48 battle. But when it got down to the nitty gritty, the Irish made the plays on the defensive end.
"The key was a five-minute stretch of getting stops," head coach Mike Brey said. "I think we got seven to nine stops in a row. It was one-and-done. They didn't get to the offensive board. We did a better job of pushing Hill and Kale off the post. The post move was coming four feet deeper and the jump hook was outside the paint instead of in the paint. That was key. We weren't going to shut these guys down, just like they weren't going to shut us down. They're really good offensively."
A crucial contributor in the defensive effort was freshman guard Tory Jackson. He was assigned to Providence's Sharaud Curry, who was fourth in the Big East in scoring at 17 points per game. But Jackson pressures him all night long and forced him not only to work for shots but take several bad ones. For the contest, Curry, shot just 4-of-14 from the field and he was six points below his average.
"Curry really never went off and that's Tory Jackson," Brey said. "He guarded him and ran our team. Curry looked tired. Tory didn't. Tory continues to get better and better."
*The Irish have a prolific scoring offense. They rank first in the conference at 81 points a contest heading into Thursday and hit their average right on the mark. Usually, they're led by Russell Carter, who is second in the league in scoring.
Not the case against Providence. Carter did hit double digits and scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. But Notre Dame had five players score 10 points or more. Senior guard Colin Falls led all Irish scorers with 16 points. Kurz added 15 and was one rebound short of another double-double. Hillesland chipped in 14 while Jackson scored 10 points. Everyone on the team can score the basketball and it showed on Thursday.
"It's all reads whether we're in a zone or in man," Brey said about the offensive scoring. "We have a high basketball IQ and take advantage of what's there. This group is smart enough to ride a guy and screen for the guy. When Colin got hot, it was against man. With Zach, we wanted to keep attacking in the middle of the zone. It's all reads in the middle of the zone."
*Can Notre Dame win their second true road game of the season? They'll get that chance on Sunday. The Irish travel south to face Cincinnati. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 PM and ESPNU will have the television broadcast.
The Bearcats don't have much to show for this season. They are dead last in the Big East at 1-10 in league play and 10-15 overall. Cincinnati has given some teams scares. They beat West Virginia at home and came extremely close on the road to both Syracuse and Providence, blowing late leads in each contest. The win on Thursday night over Providence gives Notre Dame some momentum. Can they carry it over away from the Joyce Center and continue the march to an NCAA Tournament bid? Brey expects a wild atmosphere on Sunday.
"We'll break the attendance record," Brey said. "They'll come out for the Irish. Let's get is straight but we'll have a great crowd because we haven't been through that town. I have not watched them much. I don't really know their personnel. They have a new coach and I'll dive into that in about 20 minutes. You can't look at their record. I expect one like this where we'll have to grind it. If we win it, I'll be as happy busing back from Cincinnati as any of them this year."