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Men’s Basketball: One and done

Andrew Owens | Monday, March 25, 2013

DAYTON, Ohio – Another NCAA tournament appearance arrived and vanished all too quickly for Notre Dame on Friday night in a cascade of turnovers, poor defense and overall sloppiness in a 76-58 Irish loss to Iowa State at University of Dayton Arena.

Irish coach Mike Brey dedicated last off-season to discovering a solution for his program’s annual March woes – Notre Dame hasn’t reached a Sweet Sixteen since 2003 and has now lost its first tournament contest in three of its past four trips – but the Irish once again sputtered to the finish line.

“[It] stings, you know,” Brey said. “It’s the next step for our program. It’s what keeps me up at night and trying to figure out how we can be better at this.”

No. 7-seeded Notre Dame (25-10, 11-7 Big East) claimed an 18-14 lead with 11:18 remaining in the first half on a jumper by senior forward Garrick Sherman – the Irish frontcourt scored 15 of the team’s 23 first-half points – and mustered just five points the rest of the stanza as one turnover followed another for a total of 14 by halftime.

“With 14 [turnovers] in the first half, it’s hard to stop them from scoring easy ones with that many turnovers,” senior forward Tom Knight said.

Fellow senior forward Jack Cooley, playing in his final collegiate game, struggled to make a meaningful impact for Notre Dame, a trend that began earlier this month at Marquette and culminated in a temporary second-half benching by Brey once the contest was out of hand.

After recording 18 double-doubles in the first 28 games, Cooley notched just one in the season’s final seven games to close out his Irish career.

The loss to the Cyclones (23-11, 11-7 Big 12) marked the third consecutive year that a 10-seed has eliminated Notre Dame from the NCAA tournament. The year before, 11-seeded Old Dominion defeated the Irish in the first round.

“It hurts,” said junior guard Jerian Grant of the latest chapter in Notre Dame’s tournament nightmares. “All season we felt that this year we had a team that would make a long run in March.”

The silver lining after the underwhelming performance is that Notre Dame returns each of its contributors next year with the exception of Cooley and welcomes an impressive list of recruits to campus as the Irish transition from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But until Notre Dame proves its worthiness in March, regular-season success will only give the program so much respect on a national level, a fact Brey knows all too well.

“It’s a hard one to swallow,” he said.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu