Turkey-day troubles as Monmouth masters Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Dealing with disappointment and dissecting defeat so soon this college basketball season certainly wasn't included in the Disney World travel package for No. 17 Notre Dame.

The Irish insisted they were smart enough and good enough and experienced enough to understand what was needed to sidestep the trap that too many ranked teams have tumbled into days into a new season.

Notre Dame had designs this week of cutting down nets and celebrating a championship at the AdvoCare Invitational. But the Irish couldn't get out of the quarterfinals against unranked Monmouth, and will have to work the rest of the weekend from the other side of the bracket.

The losers' bracket.

Justin Robinson sank two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining following a foul on Irish guard Demetrius Jackson as Monmouth beat a ranked team for the first time in school history, 70-68.

“I just wanted to play him without fouling,” Jackson said of the final possession. “I tried to wall up to the best of my ability, but he made a great move and got to the line.”

Notre Dame (3-1) faces Iowa at 7 p.m. Friday. It will be an internet-only broadcast on ESPN3.

Having trailed by 11 with 7:33 left and by five with 3:24 to go, the Irish tied it at 68 on a hard Jackson drive and free throw with 32 seconds left. That made it real simple for Notre Dame – defend really well for one more possession, get it to overtime and get it in gear.

Everybody in the building knew where the ball was going to go for the Hawks and knew what would happen once a certain someone had it. Robinson was going to drive it hard to the rim and force either the Irish defense to make a play or the officials to make a call.

Jackson shadowed Robinson down the lane and seemingly well enough to force him into a low-percentage look with 3.6 seconds remaining. But an official's whistle — and foul call No. 37 (21 for Monmouth, 16 for Notre Dame) — halted everything.

“I thought that was pretty good defense on the last possession,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “But you live to fight another day.”

Notre Dame's previous loss - to Kentucky last March in the Midwest Regional final in Cleveland came down to a similar call - a Jackson foul in the closing seconds. On that night, guard Andrew Harrison hit two free throws with six seconds to send the Irish home.

Could Jackson have defended it Thursday any better?

“If they called a foul, I could defend it better,” he said. “But it was a long game and it should have never come down to that.

“We just need to execute on both ends of the floor better.”

Robinson still needed to make his free throws. He thought back to a similar situation last season. He went to the line in the closing seconds of a tie game against Rutgers, but made only one. Rutgers then called time out and hit a late shot to win it.

The moment has since stayed with Robinson. He wasn't missing these. Not a chance.

“I felt that was my fault because I missed a free throw, the easiest shot in basketball,” said Robinson, who scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half and was 14 for 15 from the line. “I said, 'That's not happening again. I'm knocking down these free throws, so we've got to finish.”

Robinson and his coach King Rice, weren't the least bit fazed by beating a ranked team from the Atlantic Coast Conference. This season is their time. They played like it Thursday.

“We haven't even played like ourselves,” said Rice, whose team won at UCLA to start the season. “Wait until that happens.”

Jackson's final heave never had a chance as the horn sounded and yet another surprise score hit the national wires and cable television ticker.

“We can't really dwell on it very long,” Brey said. “You play a really good team (Friday) night. We've got to bounce back.”

Last time Notre Dame was in this tournament, in 2010 when it was the Old Spice Classic, the Irish won three games in four days to take the title. They did it back then by erasing a double-digit deficit in the second half of their first game.

Seemingly on cruise control at intermission, the Irish were asleep at the switch to start the second half. Poor possessions on offense, an inability to take good care of the ball while allowing the Hawks to get confident meant a whole lot of trouble. They missed eight of their first nine shots and seven second-half free throws to change the entire atmosphere in the building.

“All of a sudden, they're feeling good and they're on a heck of a run,” Brey said.

After allowing 29 points the first 20 minutes, Notre Dame allowed Monmouth to erupt for that many over the first 11-plus minutes. A 29-11 Monmouth burst dropped Notre Dame into that double-digit hole. From then on out, it was scramble time.

“They did a great job pressuring the ball, speeding us up a little bit,” Jackson said. “It got us out of our game.”

The Irish got back in their game by going small. Notre Dame ripped off eight straight points, including five from Jackson, to get within three. They could never get over the one-possession/tie game hump because they couldn't get a good shot and couldn't protect the ball. Notre Dame shot 38.7 percent from the field in the second half and finished with more turnovers (14) than assists (12) and was hounded all night by the quick-handed Hawks, who had 10 steals.

The loss ruined the first-career double-double from Irish sophomore Bonzie Colson, who scored 10 points and had a career-high 12 rebounds.

“It's a learning experience for us,” Colson said. “We've got to bounce back. We've got to be better defensively and keep playing hard.”

The Irish starters scored all 68 points.

“Our best flow came when we played small,” Brey said. “We've got to work with our starting group to be more efficient offensively. That hurt us in the second half.”

A spirited second half featured five ties and five lead changes. But after giving up the lead with 12:32 remaining, a veteran Irish team that was supposed to be better in game situations simply wasn't. They never again led.

Xavier and USC advanced to the winner's bracket earlier Thursday with wins over Alabama and No. 20 Wichita State. Many figured when the pairings were released in August that the must-see TV matchup was a rematch of the Midwest Regional semifinal in March between Notre Dame and Wichita State.

Not going to work out that way.

“We,” Jackson said, “just gotta be better.”

In a hurry.

NOTRE DAME (3-1): Beachem 5-12 0-0 14, Jackson 8-15 2-4 20, Auguste 5-11 2-4 12, Vasturia 5-9 0-3 12, Colson 3-12 4-6 10, Ryan 0-1 0-0 0, Farrell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 8-17 68.

MONMOUTH (NJ) (3-1): Jones 1-7 0-0 2, Seaborn 6-11 2-2 15, Hornbeak 5-11 0-0 12, J. Robinson 4-11 14-15 22, Tillman 0-2 0-0 0, James 0-1 0-0 0, Tilghman 0-0 0-2 0, Stewart 3-9 0-1 9, Quinn 0-0 2-2 2, Brady 4-5 0-0 8. Totals 23-57 18-22 70.

Halftime-Notre Dame 37-29. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 8-22 (Beachem 4-10, Jackson 2-4, Vasturia 2-4, Farrell 0-1, Ryan 0-1, Colson 0-2), Monmouth (NJ) 6-15 (Stewart 3-5, Hornbeak 2-6, Seaborn 1-3, J. Robinson 0-1). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 45 (Auguste 13), Monmouth (NJ) 33 (Brady, Jones 6). Assists--Notre Dame 12 (Auguste, Jackson 3), Monmouth (NJ) 8 (J. Robinson 4). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 16, Monmouth (NJ) 21. A--NA.

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Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson fights for the rebound with Monmouth center Zac Tillman during the first half of Thursday's game in Orlando, Fla.AP Photo/WILLIE ALLEN JR.