SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Notre Dame extended its winning streak by beating Portland at the free throw line.
The Fighting Irish (9-1) had five fewer field goals—and just two more 3-pointers than the Pilots (2-11)—but were 34-of-42 from the free throw line while Portland was 9-of-12.
The result was an 86-69 victory for the 20th-ranked Irish, who won their eighth straight. It was the second straight game Notre Dame made at least 20 more free throws than a struggling opponent.
“My uncle officiated the last two games,” Irish coach Mike Brey joked.
The free throw shooting helped overcome a season-low 41 percent shooting from the field and Portland’s 50 percent shooting. Brey said the Irish put themselves in position to get more free throws.
“To get to the bonus we ran in the second half and they just had to foul us a couple of times because we got down the floor and they were out of position,” he said.
Portland coach Eric Reveno was surprised the Pilots shot so well after shooting just 39 percent against Weber State three days earlier.
“With the shooting woes we’ve had, we just needed to focus on execution and taking care of the basketball. The kids aren’t trying to miss shots, so in our last couple games we focused on defense and rebounds, so it’s a little bit ironic that we had some shots fall for us,” he said.
Brey said the Irish, who entered the game shooting 50.5 percent, needed a night where they struggled to get ready for the upcoming Big East season.
“It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t flowing but we worked out of it pretty good,” he said.
Russell Carter, who scored a career-high 28 points, said the Irish weren’t moving enough in the first half.
“A thing that really doesn’t happen to us, our shots weren’t falling. We got a lot of good shots, but we still defended, so you can’t take it all as negative,” he said.
The Irish fell behind by five points at the start of the game and trailed by six less than six minutes in as they were just 1-of-7 from the field. But the Irish finished the first half on a 10-2 run and opened the second half with a 10-5 spurt to take control.
The Irish’s winning streak matches the two best over the previous seven seasons under Brey. Notre Dame hasn’t won more than eight straight since winning 11 in a row late in the 1986-87 season under Digger Phelps.
Brian McTear had 14 points for Portland, which has lost eight straight, its longest losing streak since dropping 10 in a row during 2001-02. Darren Cooper had 11 points.
Rob Kurz had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish and Luke Harangody added 12 points. Kurz agreed with Brey that the Irish needed a game in which they struggled a bit.
“Some game pressure was good for us,” he said. “It made us work. We aren’t going to beat everybody by 30 points. It was good for us to have to battle through not making a lot of shots and find a way to win.”