SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Notre Dame has lived off its offense this season—and lost when it struggled shooting. That’s why the Irish focused on their defense against South Florida.
After giving up 102 points against Villanova on Wednesday—the most against the Irish in eight years—No. 20 Notre Dame worked on defending better and it paid off with an 82-58 victory over South Florida on Sunday.
The Irish held the Bulls without a field goal for 9 minutes during a 21-2 run to end the first half and open a 42-26 lead en route to their 14th straight home victory this season.
“We were in one-and-done and we ran,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I thought we got some stuff in transition. And then when we didn’t have it in transition, we were driving the ball to the basket.”
The Irish (16-3, 4-2 Big East) forced the Bulls to miss their final eight shots in the first half and scored from mostly inside during the run, including a pair of fastbreak layups by Russell Carter. Guard Tory Jackson slashed inside for two baskets in traffic and Rob Kurz added a three-point play in the burst.
Kurz scored eight of his 21 points during the run. He also had 10 rebounds.
“We just wanted to come out and establish a low post game and only allow them one shot on the defensive backboard and I think that was a big key for the game,” Kurz said.
Kentrell Gransberry led South Florida (10-10, 1-5) with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He scored six points to lead a 12-3 run as the Bulls cut the lead to 48-38.
But the Irish regained control with a 17-2 spree, ignited by a three-point play by Carter and a 3-pointer by Kurz.
“I thought they did a great job of picking it up and taking us out of what we wanted to do,” Gransberry said.
Gransberry fell a point shy of matching his career high despite going 3-of-12 from the free-throw line. Melvin Buckley added 11 points for the Bulls and McHugh Mattis had 10 before fouling out midway through the second half.
Colin Falls added 14 points for the Irish and Jackson had 11 points and five assists. Irish reserves outscored South Florida’s bench 23-2, with Zach Hillesland leading the way with nine points.
“It wasn’t anything they did that was surprising,” Bulls coach Robert McCullum said. “They have a lot of balance and a lot of depth.”
The Irish have won 16 straight at home dating back to last season. The Irish won 24 straight at home from 1973-74, and 22 straight from 1977-78. They have won 16 straight at home twice before—from 1982-1983 and 2002-2003.
Brey said the Irish are simply more confident at home, even though they have yet to sell out a home game. They had 9,074 at Sunday’s game, well below the 11,418 capacity. But Brey said the crowds have been energetic.
“I think it’s because you’ve got to get up out of your seats when you see these guys play because they move you—even if you don’t feel like moving too much,” he said.