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Men’s Basketball Commentary: What it came down to was pretty simple

Chris Hine | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SPOKANE, Wash. – “Tough luck.”

That’s what Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Friday afternoon to his players after a shot went in and out. It meant Brey approved of the shot selection, but the shot just did not fall.

Brey shouted that from the sidelines countless times in Notre Dame’s 74-64 loss to Winthrop in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday.

The bedrock of the Irish offense, perimeter shooting, failed Notre Dame to the tune of 4-of-22 from three-point land and an abominable 4-of-13 from the free throw line. If before the game, someone told any objective commentator these would be Notre Dame’s numbers from the floor, they would have to pick against the Irish and say they would not even be close against the more athletic Winthrop.

But the Eagles had some “tough luck” of their own. In the first half, Winthrop lacked the patience to attack Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone, and when they did find open shots, those shots would not fall. Notre Dame’s full court pressure, which it used early in the game and then to erase a 20-point second half deficit did not force bunches of turnovers, but it did slow down the Eagles and disrupt the pace of their offense. But the Irish stayed in the press late in the game and Winthrop was suddenly able to break it with more ease and get down the floor quicker on Notre Dame’s increasingly fatigued legs. Maybe the Irish coaching staff feared an onslaught like the one in the beginning of the half.

When the Irish took off the defensive pressure early in the second half, the Eagles made a big run. Winthrop hit 10 of their first 12 shots and opened up the 20-point advantage on the Irish.

The Irish went back to the press and battled back, but Winthrop center Craig Bradshaw made sure Notre Dame went home. Whether he posted up or came off screens on the inside, Bradshaw scored at will in the second half. Bradshaw had 16-second half points.

Still, a little tough luck impeded the Irish comeback.

It was tough luck when the officials missed a moving screen set on Irish forward Rob Kurz, then proceeded to call a touch foul on him for his fifth as Bradshaw laid it in for a three-point play. Kurz, who was Notre Dame’s main post threat all day, had to take his 13 points and ten rebounds to the bench with 3:58 left.

Winthrop seemingly got to every loose ball and received most of the controversial calls down the stretch. The officials whistled the Irish for a number of loose ball fouls, but the Irish benefited from the officiating as well.

But when you are trying to come back from 20 points down in the second half, it helps to get a majority of these calls.

In the end, however, it was not the officiating that cost Notre Dame the game.

The stat sheet still says the Irish were 4-of-22 from beyond the arc and 4-of-13 from the charity stripe. Irish guards Russell Carter and Colin Falls could not ignite Notre Dame, shooting a combined 2-of-16 from three-point land in their final game for the Irish. Carter could not find his stroke all afternoon, while Winthrop guard Michael Jenkins frustrated Falls and made him rush his shot coming off of screens.

It is true that Winthrop shot an equally abysmal 10-of-19 from the free throw line, but the Eagles had that spurt at the beginning of the second half that gave them the lead. The Irish never had that burst of brilliant shooting when it seems as though they can defeat any team in the country. It came against Georgetown in the first half last Friday, and against Syracuse – twice – but not against Winthrop.

The old cliché says, “You live by the three, you die by the three.” But the Irish nearly proved even if you live by it, you can sometimes live without it. If the Irish “lived” with just one or two more threes falling, they could have advanced to the next round. Instead, Carter and Falls will not play another minute in a Notre Dame uniform and the Irish have to sit through another off-season wondering what could have been.

Tough luck.

The views of this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu