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Men’s Basketball

Irish fall at Florida State in final seconds

| Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Garrick Sherman did just about everything in their power to will Notre Dame to a victory.

The Irish (11-8, 2-4 ACC) overcame poor shooting and missed opportunities in the first half, burst back from a 10-point second-half deficit and tied the game with 34 seconds remaining. But, microcosmic of Notre Dame’s night, Florida State made one big shot with four seconds remaining and, as time expired, Atkins’s deep 3-pointer came up short, as did the Irish, who fell to the Seminoles, 76-74, on Tuesday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fla.

Irish senior guard Eric Atkins drives to the basket during Notre Dame's 70-63 win over Virginia Tech on Sunday. Atkins scored 24 points in Notre Dame's 76-74 loss at Florida State on Tuesday evening.Michael Yu

Irish senior guard Eric Atkins drives to the basket during Notre Dame’s 70-63 win over Virginia Tech on Sunday. Atkins scored 24 points in Notre Dame’s 76-74 loss at Florida State on Tuesday evening.

“We’re disappointed because, man, we thought we had a chance to win that thing or get it into overtime,” Irish coach Mike Brey said to UND.com.

Atkins finished with 24 points, four rebounds and five assists, while Sherman notched 21 points and 10 boards. And on a night when his shot wasn’t falling, Connaughton hauled in 10 rebounds. But Seminoles senior guard Ian Miller finished a tough shot in the lane with four seconds left and Florida State (13-5, 4-2) earned the victory.

“Give credit to Florida State,” Brey said. “They made big shots when they had to.”

Atkins, in particular, propelled the Irish back in the second half. The captain compensated for an Irish turnover in the opening seconds by immediately stealing the ball back near midcourt, and Notre Dame scored later in the possession. Atkins then drilled a pair of 3-pointers. The Irish inched closer.

“I thought in the second half we were scratching and clawing and getting stuff,” Brey said.

Florida State later pushed the lead to 10, but Atkins responded by diving for loose balls and hitting big shots — highlighted by hitting a high-floating layup over a Seminole double team to cut Florida State’s lead to 74-72 with 1:39 remaining.

“He was really a key for us,” Brey said of his senior captain. “I think he’s the best guard in the league. … He’s our heart and soul.”

On Notre Dame’s next possession, Connaughton, who shot just 3-of-12 from the field, picked the right moment to get a crucial bucket, slicing to the basket and finishing the layup to tie the game at 74, only for Miller to convert the game-winning score the next trip down the court.

The Irish dug themselves double-digit deficits on multiple occasions as missed second-chance opportunities and 3-pointers mounted, and Florida State kept drilling shots. The Seminoles hit nine straight during a stretch that lasted the final five-plus minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half.

Florida State shot 58 percent from the field for the game and 50 percent from 3-point range. Four Seminoles scored in double figures, led by sophomore guard Aaron Thomas’ 20 points.

But the Irish willed their way back into striking distance, only to leave northern Florida still searching for its first ACC road victory.

“I love my team,” Brey said. “I love our fearlessness. It looked like we could have been down and out a couple times and we came back and gave ourselves a chance to win.”

The Irish trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half but managed to trim the Seminole lead to eight points, 41-33, heading into the intermission.

Notre Dame was active on the glass in the first half — the team corralled eight offensive rebounds — but shot just 12-of-29 from the field. Sherman led the way with six rebounds and added 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Connaughton hauled in five boards of his own, but he made only one of his nine first-half field goal attempts. Meanwhile, the Seminoles shot a sparkling 16-of-25 — 64 percent — during the opening 20 minutes.

The Irish return to action Saturday afternoon when they square off with Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“As disappointed as we are, we’ve got to build on this because this was something good for us,” Brey said. “We had some young guys playing big minutes for us. Again, it’s crushing because you feel you’re going to get to overtime and have a chance in overtime.
“But we’ll build on it, and let’s see if we can win a road game Saturday.”

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

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