Notre Dame men's basketball: No Garden party for Irish
A veteran group with a whole lot of experience closing big games in winning ways suddenly looked like it had never done anything remotely close to it Saturday against No. 3 Ohio State.
Up eight and humming with less than two minutes remaining, Notre Dame fell apart in a major, mind-boggling, season-numbing way in the BlackRock Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Unable to take care of the ball or make a play to win the game, the Irish gave away a contest it had complete con-trol of in a 64-61 loss. It was last season’s improbable five-overtime victory over Louisville with the script flipped. That night, Notre Dame raced back from 12 down in 35 seconds to force overtime.On Saturday, Ohio State wiped out an eight-point deficit in 32 seconds and closed the final 48 seconds with a 14-3 run.
“We just made plays we usually don’t make,” said senior guard Jerian Grant. “I’m a senior. I should have taken care of the ball and made the plays we should have made.”
“We take responsibility losing an eight-point lead with two minutes left,” said junior Pat Connaughton.
“Thoroughly disappointing,” coach Mike Brey said. “We had a chance to win the thing.”
Memories of this one will linger long into the Christmas week for an Irish team that needed something to feel good about something heading into a five-day Holiday break. Able to erase what had once been an eight-point deficit, the Irish got going on both ends and seemed on the verge of a statement win that would help provide di-rection to a season begging for some.
Instead, it was a staggering collapse by a group that knew the Buckeyes would turn up defensive pressure to white-hot levels, knew it had to make free throws to escape, knew it had to make a play at crunch time.
The Irish then played like no one knew what to do.
Notre Dame turned it over four times in 48 seconds, including three critical ones from Grant, who had to be the steady one after Eric Atkins fouled out with 1:31 left. The Irish then all but stood and watched the Buckeyes blitz them for 14 points while going the final 1:57 without a field goal.
“It was tough not having Eric out there,” Grant said. “There’s no excuse. They made the winning plays and we didn’t.”
“Not having Eric in at the end didn’t help us,” Brey said. “But we have some other guys who have been good with the ball. We put ourselves in some really tough positions.”
The final 1:57 left everyone on both sides a bit dazed. Even some 15 minutes after the final horn, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft was numb.
“I don’t really know,” Craft said of the comeback. “It was a big blur. Our guys never stopped, never gave up.”
Notre Dame (8-4) was up five with the shot clock almost out when Grant dribbled between his legs and hit a fade 3 at the horn to make it 58-50 with1:57 remaining. The Irish bench erupted, Grant displayed a rare burst of emotion and everything was lining up right for Notre Dame.
“We were confident; we were definitely confident,” Grant said. “You’re confident that you can make the plays at the end of the game to win the game.”
The lead would soon evaporate. Quickly. Like blink of an eye quickly.
LaQuinton Ross scored with 48 seconds left to make it a six-point game. Demetrius Jackson turned it over before Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored to make it a four-point game with 44 seconds left. Connaughton turned it over before Shannon Scott was fouled with 40.9 seconds remaining.
Brey burned his final timeout to try and get his guys to snap out of it.
“They’re a very good defensive team; they’re a very good team in general,” Connaughton said. “We didn’t make some plays that we usually make.”
Scott hit two free throws and all of a sudden, it was 58-56 with 40.9 seconds left.
Jackson was fouled with 39.6 seconds left. His two free throws bumped the Irish up by four.
But then Connaughton clipped Smith, who was shooting a corner 3. His three free throws made it 60-59 with 32.9 seconds left. Ohio State then sent freshman Steve Vasturia to the foul line. He missed the front end of a one-and-one before Craft drove and found Smith for a layup and a 61-60 lead with 16.9 seconds left.
Bedlam busted out. Game effectively over.
Grant turned it over and fouled Smith with 9.8 seconds remaining, but by then it was a mere formality. The looks on the Irish faces said it all. They had let it all slip away.
“It went fast, but that’s the difference between winning and losing,” Connaughton said. “When you’re playing a team like this, you can’t have those turnovers and you can’t think you have the game won when the buzzer hasn’t gone off yet.”
Grant led the Irish with 18 points, but had only one the final 1:57.
While the Irish offense found its footing in the second half, so did the defense. Notre Dame was able to ef-fectively mix and match man and zone and confuse the Buckeyes, who had trouble getting anything going. Notre Dame took absolute control of this one by defending. After Ross scored on a drive with14:28 remaining, Ohio State couldn’t figure out the Irish defense to get another basket until 5:18 remained.
“I like how we defended,” Brey said. “Our zone gave us good stuff.”
Ohio State came into the contest having won its previous 11 of its games by an average of 20.5 points. Notre Dame trailed by as many as eight, but at the under-12 timeout of the second half, the Irish were down one. If they could just get this one to game situations, against a team that hadn’t been in many this season, Notre Dame might have a chance.
Little did anyone know how this one would unfold, and even fewer expected the Irish to fold. But they did.
“It would have been such a great win for us,” Brey said. “Hard one to live with.”
NOTRE DAME (8-4): Pat Connaughton 6-11 0-0 13, Garrick Sherman 6-12 2-4 14, Eric Atkins 3-6 3-4 10, Jerian Grant 7-11 3-5 18, Demetrius Jackson 1-6 2-2 5, V.J. Beachem 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Tom Knight 0-2 1-3 1, Zach Auguste 0-3 0-0 0, Steve Vasturia 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 23-51 11-19 61.
OHIO ST. (12-0): LaQuinton Ross 7-16 1-3 16, Amir Williams 6-10 1-2 13, Shannon Scott 3-8 2-2 10, Aaron Craft 3-5 4-6 10, Lenzelle Smith Jr. 2-6 5-5 9, Marc Loving 0-1 0-0 0, Sam Thompson 2-6 2-2 6, Amedeo Della Valle 0-3 0-0 0, Trey McDonald 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-55 15-20 64.
Halftime — Ohio St. 33-26. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 4-14 (Grant 1-2, Atkins 1-3, Jackson 1-4, Connaughton 1-5), Ohio St. 3-18 (Scott 2-7, Ross 1-5, Della Valle 0-1, Thompson 0-2, Smith Jr. 0-3). Fouled Out — Atkins. Rebounds — Notre Dame 33 (Connaughton 8), Ohio St. 34 (Ross 11). Assists — Notre Dame 8 (Grant 4), Ohio St. 12 (Scott 6). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 18, Ohio St. 18. A — 10,138.