UPDATE: Notre Dame men's basketball: Maryland protects its house, tops Irish

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Emerging from a church-quiet visitor’s locker room with a big bag of ice over his left hand, Notre Dame senior captain Eric Atkins insisted that a throbbing thumb hurt early in Wednesday’s game against Maryland would be fine.

The same might not be said about an Irish team that continues to find ways to lose Atlantic Coast Conference games that are there for the taking while scrambling to figure it all out. Up by nine at halftime and seemingly sailing with good offense and adequate defense to the point where they were confident more second-half sluggishness would not surface, it eventually all fell apart for the Irish at Comcast Center.

For the first time since 2009-10, Notre Dame has lost three-straight games following a 74-66 Maryland victory.

It really wasn’t that close. Not after the Irish (10-7; 1-3 ACC) looked so rattled and uncertain and flustered while committing 17 turnovers and allowing the Terrapins (11-7; 3-2) a ridiculous 20 offensive rebounds. For much of the night, Maryland’s best offensive set was simple — miss a shot, send four guys to the boards and just out-tough a group that didn’t seem all that interested in doing much tough stuff while sitting in a Charmin-soft 2/3 zone.

The Terrapins had second chances. They had third chances. Some fourth chances. Sometimes, a fifth look. The Irish stood flat-footed and often watched and watched and watched.

Nobody in black really did work.

“There were a lot of loose rebounds,” said Irish senior captain Garrick Sherman. “We weren’t able to come up with them. It’s hard to rebound out of the zone because you don’t have a specified guy to go block out.

“I don’t know. We just didn’t do a good job on it.”

Maryland finished with 34 points in the paint. The Terrapins shot a respectable 48.3 percent from the field in the second half after laboring to 32.4 percent the first 20 minutes. The second 20 minutes, they had energy; they made shots. They played.

Who were those guys in white during the second half on White-Out Night?

“It was effort,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said of the difference in his team’s play. “It was being a team, having fun and trusting each other.”

Three Irish — the three who have done far too much of the heavy lifting of late — scored double figures led by Pat Connaughton’s 19 points. After getting going early for 15 first-half points, Connaughton was hounded by former Xavier swingman Dez Wells. Connaughton went 0-for-5 from the floor with only four free throws the final 20 minutes. Sherman added 18 points and six rebounds, but also had six turnovers. And Atkins had 11 points and six assists to five turnovers while battling the thumb he hurt in the opening minutes.

“I got hit and I really didn’t feel it again after that,” Atkins said. “But it’s OK. It will be OK.”

Subtract Atkins, Connaughton and Sherman, and the other five available Irish combined for 18 points. Not nearly good enough.

Needing a solid start, the Irish instead trailed by six just over three minutes in and it looked to be more of the same of fighting uphill (North Carolina State, Georgia Tech) for an Irish team that had only eight available scholarship players. But Notre Dame settled in, limited second shots, ran some good offense, got some good stuff from Connaughton and ran off on a 17-2 spurt. Able to score in bunches, the Irish went for 22 in an 8:30 clip where they were cooking to lead by as many as 12 the first 20 minutes.

“We probably should have been up by a little bit more,” coach Mike Brey said of his team’s nine-point intermission advantage. “But the second half flurry where they took control of the game was the offensive boards and the second shots.

“They really physically put it on us there.”

The second 20 minutes have been Notre Dame’s Kryptonite in conference play, and Wednesday was no exception. Looking to control tempo in the second half, the Irish opened with a deliberate pace to their offense.

Maybe too deliberate.

The Irish were promptly burned by the Burn with a turnover, a missed shot, a missed shot and a turnover their first four possessions.

“We really wanted to have control of the tempo,” said Brey. “I love the tempo we had in the first half. We wanted to play a little slower and we did that. We definitely wanted to be more patient.”

But that patience turned to sloppiness in the second half, which led from playing with poise to playing panicked. Pretty soon the Irish were down 10 and really scrambling.

Notre Dame could get nothing going. No good looks. No good possessions. The Irish turned it over four times and missed four shots in the first 6:33. That allowed Maryland to chip away. The Terrapins got within seven, then within five. Charles Mitchell then scored on a fourth chance around the rim to make it a three-point game. And when Mitchell again dropped in another rebound basket, it was a one-point game and the home fans had something to cheer.

“It’s a hard one to get over psychologically,” Brey said. “The tip-ins during that flurry kind of break your back and then you’re digging out of a hole.”

For the Irish, it was almost a feeling of here it gets away again. As much as they tried to keep their composure, as much as Atkins tried to play basically one-handed, it started slipping, slipping, slipping away. Just as it did at home against North Carolina State. Just as it did in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.

“We’re struggling a little bit right now,” Brey said.

Notre Dame managed only one basket, a left-handed hook from Sherman, in the first 11 minutes of the second half. By the time they found some semblance of offensive order, the game had already gotten way.

Again.

Not even a Brey technical, which he was tagged with at the 12:10 mark of the second half, could shake the Irish out of their funk.

Something or someone better do it. Soon.

NOTRE DAME (10-7): Eric Atkins 4-10 1-2 11, Garrick Sherman 9-12 0-3 18, Demetrius Jackson 2-4 2-4 6, Pat Connaughton 5-12 6-6 19, Steve Vasturia 0-4 1-4 1, V.J. Beachem 0-1 0-0 0, Austin Burgett 3-4 1-1 9, Zach Auguste 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-50 11-20 66.

MARYLAND (11-7): Evan Smotrycz 2-12 0-0 5, Seth Allen 5-13 1-2 14, Jake Layman 3-7 1-2 8, Dez Wells 3-10 11-13 17, Shaquille Cleare 3-5 1-1 7, Charles Mitchell 5-7 0-1 10, Roddy Peters 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Faust 4-9 3-4 13, John Auslander 0-0 0-0 0, Jonathan Graham 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-63 17-23 74.

Halftime — Notre Dame 34-25. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 7-22 (Connaughton 3-7, Burgett 2-3, Atkins 2-5, Beachem 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Vasturia 0-4), Maryland 7-26 (Allen 3-7, Faust 2-7, Layman 1-5, Smotrycz 1-5, Wells 0-2). Fouled Out — Auguste. Rebounds — Notre Dame 31 (Connaughton, Sherman 6), Maryland 40 (Layman 10). Assists — Notre Dame 12 (Atkins 6), Maryland 13 (Allen 4). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 21, Maryland 19. Technical — Notre Dame Bench. A — 13,878.

TNoie@SBTinfo.com

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Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Maryland's Dez Wells (32) and Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman struggle for a rebound during Wednesday night's game in College Park. (AP Photo/PATRICK SEMANSKY)