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Tom Noie | South Bend Tribune | January 6, 2017

Foul line again a friend for Notre Dame men

  The Notre Dame men's basketball team has been able to capitalize on free throws.

Paths of two old friends crossed again late Wednesday for the first time this New Year, and the results were good for No. 23 Notre Dame in its Atlantic Coast Conference home opener.

For a chunk of non-conference play, the Irish enjoyed plenty of separation from overmatched opponents with frequent trips to the free-throw line. Notre Dame shot at least 20 free throws in five of their first 13 games. The Irish won all five, highlighted by a season-high 33 attempts in a 14-point win over Iowa.

The line had been a hard place to find against quality competition. In Notre Dame's two losses — to No. 1 Villanova and No. 20 Purdue — it shot six and eight free throws, respectively. In Saturday's league opener at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame went to the foul line only 10 times.

It was a different story in Wednesday's 77-70 victory over No. 9 Louisville. Knowing the Cardinals are committed to aggressive, sometimes smothering defense, the Irish (13-2; 2-0 ACC) worked their game plan to near perfection.

Drive. The. Ball.

The result? The leading foul-shooting team in the nation at 84.1 percent coming in, Notre Dame went 22-of-25 (88 percent), including 15-of-16 (93.8 percent) in the second half.

"That proves how good of a weapon it can be for us," said junior guard Matt Farrell, who was 8-for-9. "We haven't been able to get to the line (but) if we're defending, that's really good for us."

Notre Dame jumped into the bonus following Louisville's seventh foul of the second half with 5:26 remaining. At the time, the Irish led by two. Offensive flow didn't come easily. But that was OK. Coach Mike Brey stressed that his guys be just as aggressive against an aggressive defense.

After jumping into the bonus, the Irish went 11-for-12 from the foul line.

"It's a weapon, but you've got to get there," Brey said. "We should be trying to get 18-20 (shots) from the foul line every night. That should be kind of a goal for us."

Louisville held Notre Dame to one basket the final 6:12. That came in dramatic fashion on a Steve Vasturia one-handed runner to put the Irish up five with 20 seconds left. The rest of the points arrived at the line, something that Cardinals coach Rick Pitino knew spelled trouble for his team.

"We played well enough to win," Pitino said. "But if you have a free-throw shooting contest with Notre Dame, you're going to lose."

The Irish lead the nation in foul shooting at 84.4 percent.

This article is written by Tom Noie from South Bend Tribune, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.