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    Irish Climb Over Mountaineers In First Round

    FIGHTING IRISH Chris Thomas celebrates Notre Dame's first round victory over West Virginia.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Chris Thomas celebrates Notre Dame's first round victory over West Virginia.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    March 10, 2004

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    By HAL BOCK
    AP Sports Writer

    NEW YORK - Colin Falls has made himself right at home behind the 3-point line in his freshman season at Notre Dame.

    So with the Irish's NCAA tournament hopes hanging precariously in the balance Wednesday night, Falls located his favorite spot on the floor and calmly nailed the long-range basket that wiped out a West Virginia comeback and gave Notre Dame a 65-64 victory in the first round of the Big East tournament.

    The victory moved the Irish (17-11) into Thursday night's quarterfinals against second-seeded Connecticut.

    Coach Mike Brey never blinked when Falls lined up for the shot with 15 seconds left and Notre Dame trailing by a point.

    "Early in the season, I missed a game-tying shot against Indiana," Falls said. "He told me not to worry about it. He has full confidence in me to shoot the ball."

    And why not? Falls has 41 field goals this season and 33 of them have come from beyond the 3-point line. He came off the bench when Chris Thomas picked up his fourth personal foul with 8:54 top play and immediately nailed a 3-pointer. It was his only other basket of the night and interrupted a spirited West Virginia comeback that wiped out a 16-point Notre Dame lead.

    Kevin Pittsnogle scored eight points, and Patrick Beilein, son of Mountaineers coach John Beilein, connected on consecutive 3-pointers as West Virginia nudged ahead 62-60.





    We were pretty darn confident coming out to play the last 11 seconds.



     

     

    Two foul shots by Chris Quinn tied it at 62 but Tyrone Sally's shot rolled around and in to put West Virginia back on top with 45 seconds left. That's when Falls decided the issue with his 3-pointer.

    West Virginia had the last shot but Joe Herber, who led the Mountaineers with a career-high 17 points, missed.

    "We were pretty darn confident coming out to play the last 11 seconds," Brey said. "Herber tried to create something. Torrian Jones is the guy we wanted defending."

    Jones denied Herber a good look and Notre Dame escaped.

    Notre Dame came in figuring it needed two wins for an invitation to the NCAA tournament. The next one will be more complicated with UConn waiting.

    "Right now, its a flip of the coin," Brey said. "Win tomorrow night and we'll be in total control, I believe."

    Thomas led Notre Dame with 19, while Quinn had 12. Pittsnogle had 13, and J.D. Collins 10 for West Virginia (15-13).

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