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Clutch free throws help Irish resist rallying Tide

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Mike Brey heard a few calls to bench
Colin Falls during his shooting slump.

The Notre Dame coach ignored them, and Falls responded by
scoring 24 points, including six 3-pointers in the first half, in a
78-71 victory over Alabama (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) on Wednesday night.

"That guy's bailed me out of too many games hitting shots,"
Brey said, explaining why he stuck by his guard.

It was a smart decision.

Falls had made just one field goal in consecutive losses to
North Carolina State and Michigan, but went 6-of-8 on 3s to propel
Notre Dame (3-2) to a 46-29 halftime lead. Alabama wiped out most
of the deficit but the Fighting Irish never gave up the lead and
went 8-for-9 from the free throw line over the final 3 minutes.

The Crimson Tide (4-2) opened the second half with a 22-9 run
and closed within one point on Ronald Steele's 3-pointer with 8:43
left.

Falls would hit his only 3-pointer of the second half to push
the lead back to five points a minute later, but Notre Dame
couldn't extend it past that until Torin Francis hit two free
throws off an offensive rebound with 28 seconds left.

The Tide missed two 3-pointers after that.

"We had all the energy in the world," said Alabama's Chuck
Davis, who had a career-high 29 points. "We're fired up, we're
coming back, adrenaline was on our side. It was just them stepping
up and making plays."

Francis had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Fighting Irish,
while Chris Quinn and Russell Carter each had 11 points.

Davis was 13-of-18 from the field while most of his teammates
struggled.

Alonzo Gee had 15 points, nine in the Tide's run to open the
second half. Steele, playing despite a back injury, had 12 points
and five assists but was just 4-of-13 from the field.

Notre Dame made 15 free throws in 19 attempts while Alabama was
11-of-21.

Steele's two free throws with 1:30 left cut Notre Dame's lead to
73-71. But Carter drove the lane for a scoop shot and Alabama
turned the ball over to end the threat.

Falls hit three straight free throws and Francis rebounded his
miss on a fourth try and was fouled.

"They adjusted to the zone and made some big plays," Falls
said. "You've got to give credit to our guys too. We made bigger
plays."

Notre Dame had taken control with its zone defense in the first
half. Alabama couldn't find a way to consistently get inside -- and
couldn't hit anything from the outside as Notre Dame turned a
two-point deficit into a 46-26 lead.

Falls hit just about everything in the first half, including an
off-balance 3-pointer that turned into a line drive right into the
basket.

"He's a great shooter," Tide coach Mark Gottfried said. "We
probably helped him get warmed up with those wide-open shots we
gave him. That was really frustrating early in the second half.

"We just didn't guard him very well early and he stepped up. He
drilled some shots on us."

Davis was 8-of-11 from the field in the first half and his
teammates were a combined 3-of-20.

During one sequence, Alabama missed four 3-pointers and had a
turnover in five possessions.

"We were just trying to get it in there and when we couldn't
get it in there we just couldn't knock down any shots," the Tide's
Justin Jonus said. "And they were hitting everything they threw
up."