SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was feeling confident with a three-point lead and Rob Kurz, an 87 percent free throw shooter, on the line for a 1-and-1.
Just in case, though, he quietly called the other four Irish players over.
“I told them if that thing comes off, be ready, and even double the ball. Make them make one pass, because if you make them make a pass by then it’s going to be out of position,” Brey said.
West Virginia’s Frank Young didn’t make a pass, but he didn’t get off a shot, either, as Russell Carter ran beside him down the right side of the floor and the 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish held on for a 61-58 victory the 21st-ranked Mountaineers on Tuesday night.
“It’s a three-dribble play and he’s got to let it go, but he hasn’t been in many situations like that,” West Virginia coach John Beilein said. “He’s got to get it off before then, but he just misjudged the clock.”
Carter led the Irish (14-2, 2-1 Big East) with 19 points, with all but two of his baskets coming on an array of dunks.
“I was surprised I got that many dunks. There for a second I thought I was Shaq,” he said.
But Brey said Carter was smart to go inside when his outside shots weren’t falling.
Colin Falls hit a 3-pointer with 5 minutes to go to give the Irish a 55-45 lead. But two air balls by Carter, a bad pass by Zach Hillesland and another Irish turnover allowed the Mountaineers to cut the lead to 55-53 on a 3-pointer by Darris Nichols.
The Irish, who regularly folded late in games last season, didn’t give up. Instead Luke Harangody made two free throws and Carter hit a baseline jumper as the Irish extended the lead to six points.
The Mountaineers cut it to 61-58 on a 3-pointer by Young with 5 seconds left.
Brey said the Irish showed they are tougher than last season.
“I think this group is more physically tough, but they’re also more mentally tough,” he said. “This is a more mentally tough group. I hate to compare teams, but they are.”
Falls scored 14 points and Harangody added 11 for the Irish, who shot 53.5 percent, which matched a season-high against West Virginia.
Alex Ruoff led West Virginia (13-2, 3-1 Big East) with 14 points and Young added 13. The Mountaineers shot just 37.7 percent, their second-worst outing this season.
“I thought we had great shots and if we would have made a couple more shots, maybe we would have come out of here with a win,” Beilein said.
The Mountaineers, who had trailed for only four minutes in their first three Big East games, trailed for all but 17 seconds in this one. Brey said he got on the Irish for hanging their heads in the locker room.
“I don’t know if they thought they should have won by 15 or whatever,” he said. “I know they have real high expectations, and that’s a good thing. But I tried to tell them, ‘We’re in league play now. We’ll take them any way we can get them.”’