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Francis leads Irish with 24 points

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey has been
saying he wants to see tough defense. He almost saw too much Monday
night.

The Irish (No. 20 ESPN/USAToday; No. 19 AP) defense shut down Northern Illinois for 30 minutes --
holding the Huskies to 24.6 percent shooting -- then saw the Huskies
play some defense of their own in the second half before hanging on
for a 74-65 victory.

The Irish (1-0) didn't clinch the win until hitting
5-of-6 free throws in the final 36 seconds.

"I thought we would have game pressure on us, and darn if they
didn't put it on us in the second half," Irish coach Mike Brey
said. "We may have relaxed. I don't know why because they are a
heck of a team."

The Huskies trailed by as many as 24 points, 57-33, five minutes
into the second half on a layup by Francis. But that was Notre
Dame's last basket for nearly nine minutes as the Huskies cut the
lead to 61-47. The cold-shooting Huskies suddenly got hot, making
9-of-13 shots to close to 69-63 when Anthony Maestranzi made a
3-pointer with 40 seconds left.

"We kind of got a little lax," said Chris Quinn, who had a
career-high 18 points for the Irish. "It showed us that we have to
play 40 minutes. We have to take care of the ball down the stretch
and take better shots."

Marcus Smallwood, who had 21 points and 18 rebounds for
Northern, said the Huskies were confident at halftime they could
get back in the game despite trailing by 16.

"We were going to give ourselves a chance by playing good
defense," he said.

The Irish used a tough man-to-man defense to take control early,
repeatedly blocking shots and forcing air balls. Notre Dame opened
with a 10-0 burst by holding the Huskies to 0-for-6 shooting.

The Huskies closed to 18-17 midway through the first half, but
the Irish responded with a 19-3 run. Quinn hit three 3-pointers and
a 14-foot jumper during the run and Thomas added a pair of baskets
and a 3-pointer.

The Irish led 44-28 at the half.

"We really came out hard on defense," said Torin Francis, who
had 24 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots. "That was our
goal and that is what helped us win."

Northern coach Rob Judson said the Huskies didn't play well
enough to beat Notre Dame, pointing to their 4-of-17 shooting from
3-point range.

"Another couple of 3's might have made a difference in the end.
To be successful against a team like Notre Dame, you are going to
have to make your 3's and keep them away from the foul line," he
said. "We were close, but not close enough."

The Irish improved to 4-0 in opening games under Brey. Northern
Illinois fell to 2-20 all-time against ranked teams. It hasn't
beaten a ranked team since a 95-86 win over No. 19 Oral Roberts in
1973.