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Men’s Basketball: A year later, Cardinals end Notre Dame’s season again

Douglas Farmer | Friday, March 9, 2012

NEW YORK CITY — For the second year in a row, Notre Dame’s Big East season ended with a loss to Louisville in the tournament semifinals.

After a 64-50 shellacking at the hands of the seventh-seeded Cardinals (27-9, 13-8 Big East), it is fortunate the No. 3 Irish did not need to win the conference tournament, or even Friday night, to assure itself of an NCAA tournament berth.

“Their full court pressure got to us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We had some open looks that we’ve got to knock down to stop the bleeding and we never got any of those. I give a lot of credit to Louisville for just making us uncomfortable with their defense.”

Louisville erased any chance of Notre Dame reaching its first conference tournament final with a 26-4 run to close the first half. Notre Dame had scored six unanswered points immediately prior to the lopsided run, forcing Cardinals coach Rick Pitino to call timeout. But after Irish sophomore guard Eric Atkins’ field goal with 12:42 left in the half, the Irish would not convert another field goal before halftime.

“We were playing really good defense but we were giving up second shots,” Pitino said of the difference between before and after his timeout. “I put what I call the two mosquitoes in the game with Russ [Smith] and Peyton [Siva]. They both bother people and just gnaw at people and get under your skin, and that gave us a lift defensively.”

Two weeks after shooting 4-of-31 from behind the arc in a 61-58 loss to Saint John’s, Notre Dame managed a more abysmal performance in its return to Madison Square Garden. Sophomore guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins hit one 3-pointer each as the Irish limped to a 2-17 performance from long range. Overall, Notre Dame shot 34.8 percent and a pitiful 10-19 from the free throw line.

“Even when we got those clean looks, you’re a little frenzied,” Brey said. “They do a really great job of it. The ball pressure that they put on us, it kind of takes its toll. We had some free throw situations too that maybe could have stopped the bleeding, but we couldn’t make a free throw either.”

Atkins led the Irish with 12 points and four assists, while junior forward Jack Cooley added 11 points and 11 rebounds, one night after struggling to nine points and one rebound in an overtime victory over South Florida.

“I think Cooley was a key for us,” Brey said. “I feel good going into the NCAA tournament the way he got off, us throwing it into him and defensive rebounding. Getting him in a rhythm tonight makes me feel good about a game on Thursday or Friday.”

Cardinals sophomore center Gorgui Dieng led Louisville with 16 points, and junior guard Peyton Siva added 13 points and eight rebounds.

The Irish will now wait for the NCAA tournament field to be announced Sunday on CBS at 6 p.m.

“I think the benefit is that you have time to get your legs under you and travel,” Brey said. “It’s kind of a fresh start.

“I talked to them about, given that we leave here with a bad taste, can we be hungrier and edgier in the NCAA tournament. I’m really proud of the run they’ve had, and I like that they’re stinging. That’ll help us moving forward.

Eric Prister contributed to this report.