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Men’s Basketball: Rutgers loss continues road woes

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, January 17, 2012

For the Irish, there really is no place like home. 

Notre Dame (11-8, 3-3 Big East) once again struggled to find an offensive balance on the road in a 65-58 loss to Rutgers, falling to 1-7 in games away from Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame’s only road win came in a double-overtime thriller against Louisville on Jan. 7.

“Rutgers made big shots at key times,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a postgame interview with        und.com.  “I loved how we battled, but they made plays when they had to.

“They made the little plays to win and we made those same plays at Louisville. We couldn’t make enough of them tonight and we also missed some free throws and had some turnovers.”

Contrary to the teams’ Feb. 11 meeting when the Irish made 27 free-throws, Notre Dame struggled mightily from the charity stripe, going 5-13 — four of which came from sophomore point guard Eric Atkins.

Atkins led the Irish in scoring with 15 points on 4-14 shooting, but was left with the heavy burden of carrying an offensively inept Irish attack in the second half. 

Notre Dame got off to a good start shooting-wise in the first half, hitting 50 percent of its shots. The Irish took a one-point lead with 12 minutes left in the first half after knocking down seven straight shots, but the Scarlet Knights (11-8, 3-3) responded with an 18-8 run, taking an eight-point lead going into the break. 

The Irish missed a prime opportunity to capitalize on a Rutgers scoring drought, when they were down by eight with five minutes left in a back-and-forth second half. Notre Dame’s stringent man-to-man defense held the Scarlet Knights scoreless for the next 4:34, but the Irish could only muster four points in that time frame.

“I thought defensively that we did a good enough job to win. It’s tough to win in this league when you’re scoring in the 50s,” Brey said.  “I felt we had good looks again tonight. Shooting 7-for-20 (from three-point range) is something to build on.”

The Irish never saw the lead in the second half, but narrowed Rutgers’ lead to four with just over a minute remaining before Rutgers freshman guard Jerome Seagears hit four consecutive free-throws to seal the victory for the Scarlet Knights, who are off to their best start since the 2003-04 season.

Freshman guard Eli Carter led Rutgers in scoring with a steady 13-point effort, but the Scarlet Knight offense was able to exhibit a balanced attack with five players with at least nine points.

The Rutgers bench outscored the Irish bench 24-11, as Notre Dame’s bench consisted mostly of freshman forward Pat Connaughton’s seven points.

“We’re still playing around with our lineup in an effort to try and help guys. I liked the way we looked in the second half tonight with Pat in there,” Brey said. “All nine of our guys have to be ready to play.”

Junior forward Jack Cooley added nine points and nine rebounds, but wasn’t the same scoring threat he was in recent wins over Louisville and South Florida. The big man only attempted two shots in the entire first half.

The Irish will look to restore their confidence at home Saturday at 6 p.m., albeit against undefeated No. 1 Syracuse.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu