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December 7, 2006

Irish knock off No. 4 Alabama

A few months down the road, when the NCAA tournament committee is looking at Notre Dame's resume-perhaps contemplating whether the Irish truly deserve a bid-this one will have a gold star on it.

Russell Carter tossed in 27 points, including 6-of-11 three-pointers, while Colin Falls and Kyle McAlarney each scored 20 as Notre Dame (7-1) knocked off previously undefeated and No. 4-ranked Alabama, 99-85.

Four nights earlier, the Irish defeated previously unscathed and No. 23-ranked Maryland, 81-74, at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.

"We should have made you all pay admission. That was a helluva game, wasn't it?" said a smiling Mike Brey to the media. "What an atmosphere. That was fun.

"That was one of the top four atmospheres I've ever been in, and that includes a few years at (Duke's) Cameron (Indoor Stadium)."

A crowd of 10,107-easily the largest of the first four home games-made quite a ruckus as the Irish tried to offset Alabama's huge rebounding advantage.

The Irish were beaten on the backboards 45-32, including 21-9 on the offensive end. For much of the first half, the Crimson Tide played volleyball as the Irish struggled to stay close.

But Notre Dame's long-range shooting-sparked by Carter's four three-pointers in the first half-kept the Irish in it until the defense helped send the Crimson Tide into a second-half cold spell.

"That was phenomenal. That was one of the best college basketball games I have ever been involved in," said Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried.

"I think you were watching two NCAA tournament teams play tonight in an NCAA tournament type of intensity. But we didn't finish the game well. We competed hard, but we didn't finish."

Trailing 66-62 with 14:30 remaining, the Irish went on a 20-7 run over the next 7:10 to take an 82-73 lead. When McAlarney hit a 10-foot pull-up jumper with exactly five minutes remaining, the Irish had their largest lead of the night at 85-75.

Alabama went on a 7-0 run to cut it to 85-82. But Carter nailed back-to-back long-range bombs and Luke Harangody made a steal, scored, and converted the three-point play to build Notre Dame's lead back up to 93-82.

The Irish eventually led by 17 and cruised down the stretch, much to the delight of the home crowd that spilled onto the court.

"They were as athletic as they could be, but in the end, we made the plays down the stretch," said Falls, who played much of the second half in foul trouble.

"That's kind of what college basketball is all about. If you can make plays down the stretch, make your shots, and make some defensive stops, you're going to win a lot of ball games."

The Irish had great difficulty containing the inside game of 6-foot-10 Jermareo, 6-foot-8, 265-pound Richard Hendrix, and 6-foot-6 springboard Alonzo Gee. Gee finished with 24 points, Davidson had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Hendrix tossed in nine points to go along with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, 6-foot-6 Mykal Riley tossed in 18 points, mostly from the outside, and snagged nine rebounds to help make life difficult for the Irish, who fell down by nine points within the first nine minutes of the first half.

Just when it appeared that Alabama would be too strong on the backboards, the Irish went on a 10-0 run on a steal and score by Harangody, three-pointers by Carter and McAlarney, and a runner through the lane by McAlarney to take a 72-66 lead with 11:55 remaining.

The Irish also had difficulty with Alabama's back-door cuts to the basket that led to numerous lay-ups and three-point plays. Falls picked up his fourth foul immediately after Notre Dame's 10-0 run.

But the Irish tightened up defensively, allowing Alabama just 19 points over the final 14:34 while the Irish closed with 37 points during the same time span.

Carter played a key role in the first half when the Irish came back from a nine-point deficit, as well as the second half when a 10-point lead dwindled to three.

Carter's back-to-back three-pointers at the 2:40 and 2:08 mark raised Notre Dame's lead back up to 90-82.

"Right before they shot their foul shots to cut it to three, we talked about how we had been in this position 10, 11, 15 times last year," Carter said.

"This isn't last year. This is a new season, and we're not going to lose our composure. We've all been through this and it was about time we got a win like this."

A fast-paced, frenetic, basket-a-minute first half saw the two teams play to a 49-49 tie with the squads combining for 13-of-29 shooting from three-point range.

A three-pointer by Brandon Hollinger gave the Crimson Tide a 22-13 lead at the 11:08 mark of the first half. But three three-point bombs by Carter in a 3:26 span pulled the Irish within one at 28-27 with 7:32 left in the first half.

Alabama opened a six-point lead moments later. But another Carter three-pointer, baskets by Kurz, Harangody, and McAlarney, and a pair of free throws by Falls brought the Irish to within two.

Tory Jackson's reverse lay-up off a steal by Carter tied the game with 30 seconds left in the half.

The Irish were able to forge a tie at halftime despite being out-rebounded 22-13, including 10-3 on the offensive boards.

"We did a lot of growing up this week, certainly in (Washington) D.C. and here tonight," Brey said. "We kept getting hit by punches and we kept fighting and grinding."

Brey has had his patience tested by Carter the last four years. But when the senior guard is hot, Brey lets him sizzle, even when his second three-pointer with under three minutes remaining might have been a bit excessive.

"He is an explosive offensive guy," Brey said. "I thought tonight his shot selection for the most part was pretty good. The one he took on the baseline, in the old coaching manual, that's not a good shot.

"But he's got to take it because he's rolling and you've got to cut him loose and let him go.

"I thought he did a great job defensively on (Alabama point guard Ronald) Steele and he got a couple of defensive rebounds when we were struggling in there. That really saved us."

Rob Kurz added 14 points and 12 rebounds. He left the game in the second half with a cut over his right eye that required five stitches.

Harangody tossed in nine points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Notre Dame's 99 points were the most scored by an Irish team against a ranked opponent since a 101-98 victory at No. 10 Syracuse on Feb. 15, 1992.


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