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Men’s Basketball: Storm damage

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The No. 20 Irish failed to exorcise their Madison Square Garden demons as St. John’s upset Notre Dame 67-63 on Tuesday night in New York and handed Notre Dame its second consecutive loss.

“They guarded us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a postgame interview with UND.com. “We weren’t able to get into a consistent offensive flow. You’ve got to probably score more to get out of here with a win.”

Notre Dame (14-3, 2-2 Big East), which had lost its previous four games against the Red Storm (10-7, 2-3) inside Madison Square Garden and fell to Louisville in the Big East semifinals last season, battled back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to take a 63-61 lead with 2:50 left to play.

But Red Storm sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison drilled a three-pointer from NBA range to give St. John’s a 64-63 lead that held up until the waning moments of the game. With 22 seconds remaining, the Irish had a chance to win, but Harrison blocked a layup attempt from Irish senior forward Tom Knight and the Red Storm pounced on the loose ball and held on for the upset victory.

The Red Storm, who entered Tuesday leading the nation in blocks, had nine blocks in total.

Irish junior guard Eric Atkins poured in a season-high 21 points and added four assists and six steals to propel the Notre Dame attack while playing all 40 minutes. Fellow junior guard Jerian Grant chipped in 14 points.

St. John’s freshman forward JaKarr Sampson led the Red Storm with 17 points and sophomore forward Amir Garrett provided 11 points, two steals and three blocks off the bench.

“I thought they were very good offensively at key times,” Brey said. “We needed a little more offensive efficiency for longer periods of time, like we had at times. But you’ve got to be more efficient to get out of here with a win.”

The Irish, who entered the game ninth in the nation in three-point field goal shooting at 42 percent, made just one of nine attempts from beyond the arc.

The teams went back-and-forth throughout the first half, with St. John’s entering the break up 32-21. The Red Storm exploded on an 18-4 run early in the second half to take a 55-43 lead with 10:52 remaining in the game.

Notre Dame then went on an 18-4 run of its own to claim a 61-59 lead with 4:32 left in the game. But Harrison and the Red Storm tightened up defensively from there and held the Irish to just one field goal for the remainder of the game.

The Irish came out strong and led for the first 16 minutes of the first half behind the all-around play of Atkins. The Irish asserted their dominance down low – despite playing without foul-ridden senior forward Jack Cooley for the majority of the first half – and buried their first 10 field goals from inside the paint.

Knight buoyed the Irish frontcourt in 17 minutes of action. The Dixfield, Maine native recorded six points, three rebounds and four blocks while Cooley played just 18 minutes total for the Irish and finished with three fouls. Senior center Garrick Sherman played just five minutes.

“I think that’s really something to build on with [Knight],” Brey said. “He gave us energy and bounce and he’ll be the first big off the bench [against Rutgers] on Saturday and we’ve got to cultivate that.”

Brey said the Irish need a strong week of practice leading up to their suddenly important tilt with the Scarlet Knights at Purcell Pavilion.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Brey said. “You lose two in a row. We’re coming home. We need three good days of hard practice to get ready for Saturday.”

Although the Irish have fallen on tough times after starting the season 14-1, Brey said he is confident in his team.

“I think this group has a great sense of itself and ownership of itself so I think more than half of [the key to improvement] will be them wanting to do better,” Brey said. “We’ve got to help them and put them in some better positions and look at our rotations at times.”

The Irish look to avenge their recent losses when they battle the Scarlet Knights on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu