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Men’s Basketball: Bulldog blowout, from start to finish

Eric Prister | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The hostile environment of the McCarthy Athletic Center was too much for Notre Dame on Wednesday. The Irish turned the ball over 11 times in the first 12 minutes against No. 18 Gonzaga on their way to a 73-53 loss.

“They really defended us and we could never get comfortable,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a postgame radio interview with und.com. “And I was disappointed because we were flustered on the road. A lot of that was Gonzaga’s defense. For us to handle the ball like that … you’re just digging out of a hole. Their defense made us very uncomfortable and we hurried things.”

Sophomore guard Eric Atkins, who led the Big East last season in assist-to-turnover ratio, had five of his six turnovers and only one assist in the first half. Notre Dame’s leading scorer coming into the contest, Atkins shot just 2-for-9 from the floor, scoring six points, his lowest output of the season.

“For Eric, it’s tough being the guy and handling the ball,” Brey said. “We didn’t work very hard to get open for him, but he’s got to be better with it and that’s part of the evolution of being the quarterback.”

Sophomore guard Jerian Grant led all scorers with 16 points, but turned the ball over four times and had just three assists.

The Irish (5-3) stayed close for the first seven minutes of the game until Gonzaga went on a 13-2 run, taking a 17-point lead. Freshman guard Pat Connaughton hit two three-pointers in the last six minutes of the half, which cut the lead to 13 heading into the locker room. Connaughton finished the game with 11 points off the bench.

Notre Dame finished the first half with 13 turnovers, already over its 10.4-per-game average heading into the contest, and recorded just two assists. The Bulldogs (5-0) held the Irish to 29.2 percent shooting from the floor before the break.

Junior forward Jack Cooley was shutout in the first half and finished the game with six points and a team-high six rebounds.

The Irish temporarily cut the lead to single-digits with 15 minutes to go in the second half. Junior forward Tom Knight scored in transition on an assist from junior guard Joey Brooks. Grant then stole the inbound pass and fed Knight for another lay-up which cut the lead to nine. But Bulldogs junior forward Elias Harris made a lay-up, was fouled and made the free throw to give Gonzaga a double-digit lead again, one they never relinquished.

“I was proud of our group that we could close it a little bit and get it to single-digits,” Brey said. “We talked about trying to get it to single-digits but they made big shots and we would break down in concentration defensively. We could never get four stops in a row and a lot of that is probably youth, and that’s something we have to keep coming back to and working on because we’ve got a long way to go to be good enough to win a game on the road against a team like this.”

Harris recorded a double-double for the Bulldogs, scoring 11 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Fifth-year center Robert Sacre led all Bulldog scorers with 15.

With fifth-year forward and captain Tim Abromaitis out for the season with an ACL injury, senior guard Scott Martin remains the lone captain for the Irish. Martin scored just one point on 0-for-6 shooting against the Bulldogs and turned the ball over twice.

Notre Dame will take the court again in Washington, D.C., on Sunday against Maryland. The Irish and Terrapins will tip-off at 4:45 p.m.

Contact Eric Prister at eprister@nd.edu