Notre Dame entered the Sun Dome on Saturday nightboasting a 9-1 all-time record against USF, but despite strong first-half play from the Bulls, the No. 24 Fighting Irish came out on top, 73-65.
Entering the game, the Bulls looked for their first big upset of the season, having already played and lost to three Top 25 teams Oklahoma State, Syracuse, and Louisville.
The downward spiral for the Bulls didnt start right away.
In fact, fans were stillimpressed when sophomore point guard Anthony Collins opened the second half tossing up an alley-oop from three-point range to junior forward Victor Rudd, who finished the play with a one-hand slam as the Bulls took a 37-28 lead.
Rudd came up with a block leading to a layup by junior guard Martino Brock to push the Bulls lead to 40-35 three minutes into the second half.
Thats when the Fighting Irish showed they werent going down without, well, a fight.With 16:36 left in the game, Notre Dames junior guard Eric Atkins drained a three thatstarted a 13-0 run to give the Irish a 48-40 lead three minutes later.
I thought that once they got momentum going in the second half, we just couldnt get it back, coach Stan Heath said.
The Irish then showed off their size as they began to dominate the boards.
The Bulls finished the night losing the rebound battle, 34-17.
Experience and size is a valuable commodity, Heath said. We dont have a lot of size and we dont have a lot of experience on the front line.
While Collins was held in check the second half, only scoring two more points and assists, freshman forward Zach LeDay chipped in another
10 points, adding on to his seven in the first half, while going 6-6 from the free throw line.
I try to hold my own with everybody. Ill put up a fight against anybody, LeDay said. I dont care how big they are, they put on their shoes the same way I put on my shoes.
Brock also came up big with eight points.
But it wasnt enough to gain an edge on a Notre Dame team that seemed to be mimicking USFs first-half performance.
Notre Dame proved its Top 25 worth, opening the game with a three, but the Irishs solid offensive performance was nothing compared to the Bulls.
USF was quick to respond with the three-ball early on, and 12 of its first 18 points were from beyond the arch, each made by four different players.
Rudd was one of thoseplayers, starting things off when he tied the game at three two minutes in. From there on it
became a battle of who could shoot better.
Just as the Fighting Irish gained an edge with a 24-18 lead with 8:21 to go before halftime, the momentum shifted for the Bulls as LeDay, who finished as the lead scorer with 17 points, made his mark with a steal leading to a layup.
Im just trying to take my game to the next level, LeDay said. (Heath) puts me in, he believes in me, so I have to produce.
Thats when USFs offense, which was seen against Georgetown just weeks ago, was on display again.
LeDays layup led to a 17-4 run by the Bulls to put an end to the first half with USF leading, 35-28.
Great first half, Heath said. We really shot the ball well, we played well as a team (and) our zone was really effective in the first half, Heath said. That gave us the stops we needed to keep momentum going and create
The Bulls shot for a staggering 60 percent from the field to the Irishs 48 percent.
With things looking up for the Bulls heading back onto the court after an impressive first half,outshooting the Irish and only being out-rebounded 13-9, USFs first half showing was not a sign of good things to come.
The Irish didnt just improve from three-point range in the second half, hitting five of its nine deep balls, but they also matched USFs first half shooting from the field with 60 percent.
During Notre Dames 13-0 run, which eventually ended in disappointment for USF fans, the Bulls had no choice but to endure the type of offensive play that the Irish experienced at the beginning of the game.
As USF sits at the bottom of the Big East, Saturdays loss will lead the Bulls into a two-game stint on the road, starting with Marquette at
This is a really good league, Heath said. There are no nights off.