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Men’s Basketball: Stormy skies

Andrew Gastelum | Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Wednesday, the Irish set the school record for consecutive Big East wins with nine. By Saturday, the streak was over.

No. 18 Notre Dame (20-9, 12-4 Big East) rallied from a 14-point deficit midway through the second half, but couldn’t survive 4-for-31 shooting from beyond the arc and clutch finishing from St. John’s in a 61-58 loss at Madison Square Garden.

“Well I think [St. John’s] defense really bothered us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We didn’t really shoot it well, and you have got to give their defense credit. They rushed us a little bit … I love our group. We fought back and gave ourselves a chance. But our start and our energy level wasn’t as high as it needed to be.”

The Irish never led in the game, but came within one with 44 seconds left following a layup by senior forward Scott Martin off a designed inbound play. But the Red Storm (13-16, 6-10) displayed some heroics of their own, as freshman forward Amir Garrett wove his way through three Irish defenders and threw up an acrobatic shot that put St. John’s up by three with nine seconds left.

Despite having one timeout left, Notre Dame chose to inbound the ball to sophomore guard Jerian Grant, who threw a cross-court pass to sophomore guard Eric Atkins at the three-point line. Atkins passed up the open 3-pointer and found sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich in front of the Irish bench. But Dragicevich’s potential game-tying 3-pointer bounced off the side of the rim as the buzzer expired, and St. John’s celebrated its first win over a ranked opponent this season.

“For us, I thought maybe we had one or two in us there at the end because we had some great looks the last seven minutes,” Brey said. “We had some guys we wanted to step up and shoot it. You are going to have to make some more jump shots over the top of their zone because that is what they were giving up.”

The Irish struggled mightily in the first half, as their top scorers during the winning streak (Grant and junior forward Jack Cooley) combined for 1-for-7 shooting and four points. The struggles rolled over into the second half as Notre Dame went on a scoring drought of almost six minutes after missing 10-straight shots, while St. John’s jumped out to its biggest lead of the game behind freshman forward Moe Harkless, the game’s leading scorer (22 points).

Led by Martin’s 18 points, Notre Dame broke out of its offensive funk and started forcing the ball inside to Martin and Cooley, sparking an 11-2 run with 4:54 left to pull within three at 55-52. But the season-low 3-point shooting prevented Notre Dame from pulling off its second double-digit road comeback of the week, Brey said.

“You are going to have to make a few more of them to steal a win, and we just couldn’t make enough,” he said. “I loved our effort, and we had a chance to put that darn thing into overtime when it looked like we were maybe going to get beat by 15. This group has always responded with a lot of character. I would like for us on Monday to start off with more energy.”

With their first loss since Jan. 16, the Irish will have to bounce back fast with a tough road test against No. 9 Georgetown tonight.

The Hoyas (21-6, 11-5) are coming off a 67-46 rout over Villanova on Saturday, highlighted by senior guard and leading scorer Jason Clark’s 15 points and six rebounds. Georgetown trails the third-place Irish by one game in the conference standings and the meeting could go a long way in determining the seeding in next week’s Big East championships.

“We have not had to talk about how do we bounce back for a while because we haven’t had to,” Brey said. “So that is something I want to talk to our guys about. The other thing I would like to remind them about is who we were the last time we played in this gym against Maryland and who we are now. And [we need to] play with great poise against a heck of a basketball team. But we are going to have to get off to a better start, and you know you are off to a good start when you are getting more 50/50 balls than your opponent.”

The Irish look to clinch a double-bye in the Big East tournament with a win over Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. at 7 p.m., with the game televised on ESPN.

 

 

Contact Andrew Gastelum at

agastel1@nd.edu