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Men’s Basketball

No. 21 Notre Dame blows 17-point lead, falls to No. 15 Purdue, 86-81

| Saturday, December 17, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS — For the second straight week, and the second straight year at the Crossroads Classic, No. 21 Notre Dame blew a double-digit lead, falling 86-81 to No. 15 Purdue at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday.

The Irish (9-2) led by as many as 17 in the first half and by 14 at the half, but the Boilermakers (9-2) changed the course of the game in the first three minutes of the second half, embarking on a 12-2 run to cut Notre Dame’s advantage to four, 54-50. The Irish hung on for a while from there, the lead ebbing and flowing between two and eight, but when Purdue sophomore guard Ryan Cline hit a 3-pointer with 10:28 to play, he gave the Boilermakers their first lead of the game. Notre Dame would never lead again, and when Purdue sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan converted a three-point play with 9:41 left, it gave the Boilermakers a lead they did not surrender.

“I don’t think our [second-half offensive] movement was great,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said after the loss. “That’s two Saturdays in a row against really good teams we stopped moving and we stood a little bit.”

Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brings the ball up the court during Notre Dame‘s 107-53 Dec. 4 win over North Carolina A&T at Purcell Pavilion.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brings the ball up the court during Notre Dame‘s 107-53 Dec. 4 win over North Carolina A&T at Purcell Pavilion.

Despite a pair of double-doubles — a first career one from junior guard Matt Farrell (22 points, 10 assists) and another from junior forward and captain Bonzie Colson (23 points, 10 rebounds) — the Irish fell short Saturday on an uncharacteristically quiet day from its senior captains, forward V.J. Beachem and guard Steve Vasturia. Beachem hit double figures with 10 points, but all were in the first half, while Vasturia fouled out with a minute to play, holding just three points to his name. That was a problem for Notre Dame, Brey said, which needs production from each of the four.

“To beat good teams — for us to beat really good teams like the two last Saturdays, our big four all have to play really well, and you know, we didn’t have that,” Brey said. “But we’ll go to work on that over the next couple weeks before we have to play our opener in the ACC.”

While Notre Dame blew its lead midway through the second half, it still had chances to tie the game or take the lead late, holding Purdue to just two made field goals in the game’s final nine minutes. After trailing 80-74, the Irish held the Boilermakers scoreless for six consecutive possessions — two “kills” as Brey calls them — but Notre Dame went silent itself for more than three minutes, only cutting the lead to 80-79 with 1:43 to play on a Colson layup. Swanigan dunked the next time down the floor, pushing the Purdue lead back to three, before Vasturia fouled Cline on a long rebound with 60 seconds left. Cline hit both from the stripe to push the lead to five, but again, Notre Dame had a chance. Trailing 84-81 with under 30 seconds left, sophomore forward Matt Ryan — into the game because Vasturia fouled out — pulled up on a deep 3-pointer. He air-balled the shot, and Purdue split a pair of late trips to the free-throw line to produce the final margin.

A pair of Boilermakers had double-doubles of their own — Swanigan led all scorers with 26 points, adding 10 boards, while junior forward Vincent Edwards came off the bench to provide 20 points and 10 rebounds, six of which came at the offensive end. Purdue finished with 14 offensive boards, against just 22 Irish defensive rebounds.

“I think still, our interior defense and defensive rebounding is going to be a key,” Brey said. “And you know, I thought that would be an issue I would be worried about. It was an issue I worried about in October. And we’ve made progress; don’t get me wrong, we’ve made progress.

“But when we really start to play up, it’s got to be better, and that’s an area we really have to address over the next couple weeks.”

Notre Dame had seemingly taken control of the game in the first half’s final nine minutes, rattling off an 11-for-12 stretch from the field to build a 23-17 lead into a 52-38 halftime advantage. But that offensive play didn’t hold into the second half, where the Irish scored just 29 points, turning the ball over seven times and shooting 38.2 percent from the field.

“Probably a little bit of fatigue on our part,” Brey said. “Probably got to get them a little more organized, and that’s on me to help them a little bit more with some stuff. We just couldn’t get one, couldn’t get an easy one to make us feel good, but I think you’ve got to give Purdue credit, and again, Villanova did the same thing [last week].

“We’re not in the league of the two high-level teams we played. I told them that. We’ve got a nice team. I love our team. We’re not in their league right now. We’ve got some work to do before New Year’s Eve.”

The Irish have a quick turnaround, returning to action Monday at Purcell Pavilion when they host Colgate. St. Peter’s will close out the nonconference slate Dec. 28 before ACC play starts for the Irish on New Year’s Eve at Pittsburgh.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson is a senior ACMS major (still!) living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson is now a Senior Sports Writer, covering Irish baseball as he tries to forget he’s graduating soon. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Juicy J’s verse in “Dark Horse” is the greatest of all time, and now wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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