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February 18, 2007CINCINNATI, Ohio-Notre Dame's three-point shooting of the past and present mixed with Notre Dame's three-point shooting of the present and future Sunday afternoon at the Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.
The end result was a 76-64 victory over the Bearcats, which raised Notre Dame's record to 20-6 overall and 8-5 in the Big East, which lifted the Irish into a tie for fourth place. The Irish reached the 20-victory mark for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
"I said last week that if we'd be fortunate enough to win at Cincinnati that I would be as excited as any win we've had," said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
"(Cincinnati) is an athletic group, they defended and played hard. I thought we would get a big punch and we had to hold them off the whole game."
Senior Colin Falls set the Notre Dame three-point shooting record, raising his total to 305 on 5-of-8 shooting. Falls surpassed Chris Thomas, who made 302 three-pointers from 2001-05.
Sophomore Ryan Ayers, who had made just 12-of-34 three-point attempts coming into the game, connected on all four of his attempts to finish with 12 points in 30 minutes of action-both career highs by far.
Cincinnati (10-16, 1-11) donned replica uniforms that were used by the Bearcats in 1961 when they won the national championship. Their competitiveness was comparable to those glory days, but they're talent level wasn't as the Irish converted 13-of-20 three-point attempts
"We tried hard, but the other team made shots and they have good players," said Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, whose nightmarish season got worse. The Bearcats fell to 10-16 overall and 1-11 in the Big East. They've now lost eight straight and 13 of their last 14.
Falls finished with 23 points while Luke Harangody added 11 and Tory Jackson had 10.
But the story of the game was Ayers, who replaced Notre Dame's leading scorer, Russell Carter, at the 15:48 mark and never relinquished his spot back to the Irish tri-captain.
"When you have a group that's flowing pretty good, you don't mess with it," Brey said. "(Ayers) was going good. Certainly he was making shots, but he also was really defending. He took away vision. When he closes out on a 6-foot-3 guard with that 6-foot-8 length, it really takes away a three-point look."
Carter played just 15 minutes, converting 1-of-6 from the field while committing three turnovers. He finished with a season-low three points.
"(Ayers) was making shots, but he was better than Carter (defensively)," Brey said. "It was a combination of both. So you go with the group that played. We're not going to be married to any lineups down the stretch. We're going to play guys that are going to deliver for us."
Although the Irish never trailed, they had difficulty shaking the Bearcats, who were led by 6-foot-6 junior John Williamson with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The Bearcats also relied upon freshman guard Deonta Vaughn, who finished with 22 points on 8-of-21 shooting.
Beyond Williamson and Vaughn, the rest of the Bearcats scored just 19 points.
The Bearcats out-scored the Irish in the paint, 32-18, held a 24-8 scoring advantage off turnovers, and had a 12-7 scoring edge on second-chance points.
Notre Dame's depth was a difference-maker with 24 bench points to Cincinnati's 11.
With few exceptions, it was a single-digit game throughout the first 32 minutes of the game. Cincinnati narrowed the deficit to 64-57 with 3:03 remaining. But Falls' fifth three-pointer at 2:43 gave the Irish a double-digit lead for good.
The 20 victories are the most since the 2002-03 Irish team that finished 24-10.
"I put that on the board. It looks pretty good," Brey said. "That's a great milestone. I'm really happy for our seniors. They've not seen that number up there.
"It's something to pause and look at. We're still in very good position, but there's still work to do. We play a very hot, talented basketball team Tuesday night."
Tuesday, the Irish host DePaul, which knocked off the Irish, 67-66, on Feb. 8 in Chicago.
(Monday: Look for Tim Prister's stories on Ryan Ayers and Colin Falls on IrishIllustrated.com.)