for this game

Notre Dame uses late push to extend home winning streak

Jan 28, 2007 - 2:47 AM SOUTH BEND, Indiana (Ticker) -- Colin Falls and Notre Dame continued to have all the answers at home.

Falls scored four points in the final 65 seconds as the No. 21 Fighting Irish captured their 17th consecutive win at the Joyce Center with a 66-63 Big East Conference victory over Villanova.

Despite struggling offensively, going more than eight minutes without a field goal in the first half, Notre Dame (17-4, 5-3 Big East) stayed in the contest because of Falls.

"It was a heck of a league win," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "To be 5-3 halfway through the league, that's what we talked about trying to do before we go into the second half of the league."

The senior guard scored 10 points in the first half to help the Irish remain within 25-21 despite mustering their lowest first-half point total of the season.

Falls, who finished with 23 points, also stepped up in the closing moments, picking up a loose ball at mid-court and driving for a layup with 65 seconds remaining, then capped the 9-0 burst with two free throws with 37 seconds left for a 66-60 edge.

Although sophomore swingman Ryan Ayers committed a foul on a 3-point attempt with 25 seconds left, the Wildcats' Reggie Redding only converted 1-of-3 free throws.

Villanova's Curtis Sumpter, however, grabbed the offensive rebound of the last miss, missed a 3-pointer, but Dante Cunningham pulled in another board, got fouled and sank two free throws with 20 seconds left.

Notre Dame, which was coming off a 71-68 loss at St. John's on Tuesday, then turned the ball over on an inbounds pass, but survived missed shots from the arc by both Redding and Sumpter to hold on for the victory.

"I felt like I had a good shot," Sumpter said about his last attempt. "I was open and I just wanted to take it. At the end of the game, you're not going to get too many looks and if you get one, you have to take advantage of it."

Sumpter, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, was 3-of-13 from the field, including 0-of-4 from the arc. He did manage to finish with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

With the win, the Irish improved to 2-2 in games decided by six points or less. Last season, they lost seven games by a total of 15 points and 14 by an average differential of 4.4 points.

"I don't think it was surprising for any coaches in the league or anyone who played them last year in those close games," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Notre Dame. "We came out here last year saying, 'You know we don't want to see them again, they're probably going to get it going next game.' We thought they were going to be good this year."

Falls went 6-of-11 from the field with three 3-pointers and Russell Carter scored 14 points despite 3-of-11 shooting for the Irish, who overcame 29 percent (7-of-24) shooting from the field by converting 29-of-37 (78 percent) free throws.

Notre Dame used the free-throw line as its main weapon to rally in the second half, going 24-of-31 after the break. Villanova committed 18 of its 25 fouls in that span.

"We came out and kind of got out of rhythm," Villanova freshman guard Scottie Reynolds said. "Notre Dame did a great job forcing us to do things we didn't want to do. We were on the road so we just had to keep a good attitude and fight through it."

Falls and Carter were the main beneficiaries of the Wildcats' numerous fouls, combining to go 15-of-17 on free throws.

Rob Kurz had 10 points and 10 rebounds to record his eighth double-double of the season for Notre Dame, which did struggle mightily protecting the ball, finishing with 18 turnovers vs. just eight assists.

Reynolds had 19 points and eight assists for the Wildcats (14-6, 3-4), who shot 33 percent (20-of-60) in having a three-game winning streak snapped.

Cunningham and Mike Nardi also scored 11 points for Villanova, which dropped to 7-3 on the road this season.