Notre Dame men's hoops team collapses in Crossroads Classic

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS – This one was there for Notre Dame to take — just get it, get on the bus and get back home with what was becoming an all-around excellent effort in a high-energy environment.

All the Irish had to do Saturday the final 7:25 against Indiana was keep doing what they had been doing — and doing it on both ends — which helped them build a seemingly safe 16-point lead in the second half.

Instead of making sure everything fell into place, it all fell apart in the fifth-annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Up eight before being outscored 19-4 over the final seven-plus minutes when it couldn’t get a stop, couldn’t make a shot, couldn’t do anything needed to win a close contest, Notre Dame fell apart and fell to 7-3 following an 80-73 Indiana victory in men's college basketball.

Notre Dame saw its current three-game win streak, its three-game win streak in the Crossroads and its four-game run of success against the Big Ten all vanish.

The Hoosiers (9-3) had little life for long stretches, then had a whole lot of it at the most important time. Winning time. This one was gift-wrapped for them, and they took the present and ran with it. The Irish left for home late Saturday afternoon believing they had given yet another close contest away.

Indiana won it, but Notre Dame had a hand in it, mainly because it stopped doing what helped the Irish build what had ballooned to a 16-point lead with 16:42 to play.

“We got lackadaisical,” said a frustrated Zach Auguste, who spent the end of the game on the bench after fouling out. “When teams get on a roll, it’s tough to stop them, but we’ve got to lock in, strap it down and get a stop, make the extra play.

“We just couldn’t do it for 40 minutes.”

Notre Dame did it for about 32 — of which it led for 29. The Irish looked the Hoosiers’ high-octane offense right in the face, and matched it with some scary efficiency of their own. Notre Dame made its first seven shots to start the second half, which bumped the lead close to 20. But just when it was all coming together for the Irish, they couldn’t do much right the rest of the way.

After hitting their first seven, the Irish made only eight of their final 26. And they did it — or couldn’t do it — against a 2-3 zone defense that Indiana really hadn’t relied on at all.

The 2-3 look wasn’t really that good at any time this season for the Hoosiers. Then it was the final seven-plus minutes. Irish coach Mike Brey blamed it more on not executing in game situations than being paralyzed by the zone.

“Playing against zone, you’re up a couple, it’s a one-possession game,” he said. “Now shooting that jump shot or making that play, there’s some game pressure on you.

“You’ve got to make a jump-shot or two to escape today. The momentum was swinging, the building was swinging their way.”

Rebounding also crushed the Irish. It was 20-20 at the half, but 41-33 Indiana when it was over.

“Second shots by them, they were great on the offensive board,” Brey said. “They made big-time offensive rebounding put-backs that got them confident.

“Tough one for us to swallow.”

As much as it looked like Notre Dame was holding on for its life late, it still had chances down the stretch to do what’s needed to win close contests in road-like atmospheres like Saturday. But the Irish couldn’t get into a rhythm, couldn’t make free throws (again), couldn’t take care of the ball and couldn’t get a stop after getting a whole bunch of them for much of the day.

Just as it was in losses to Monmouth and Alabama late last month, this one came down to executing down the stretch and closing out a close contest when it’s time to close it out. But last year’s ultimate closer — former Irish guard Jerian Grant — is off in some NBA city as a rookie with the New York Knicks, and there’s been nobody ready to step in and make sure it doesn’t get away.

It showed.


And again.

And again.

And that’s OK.

Brey believes it wasn’t about closing it out on the offensive end.

“When you think about closing games, you think about getting stops better and not offensive closeouts,” he said. “We block out a little bit, you escape here. That’s the thing that’s disappointing.”

All five Irish starters played at least 29 minutes. Three logged at least 35. Notre Dame went only three deep on its bench; Indiana went five. It looked a whole lot down the stretch that fatigue was a factor, even though Notre Dame was playing for the first time in six days.

Was it?

“Nah,” Auguste said. “They were feeding off the crowd, feeding off their energy and playing to the best of their abilities.

“They had something to go for.”

The Irish didn’t leave Bankers Life feeling good because they had no answer for Indiana swingman Troy Williams. After going for a way-too-quiet two points in the first 20 minutes — when Tom Crean begged and pleaded and pleaded and begged him to take it to the basket — the player finally listened to the coach.

Williams gashed the Irish time and again off the dribble and down the lane in the second half. He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

"Very proud of the comeback," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "Tough locker room at halftime, but it wasn't really me (upset), it was them."

The Hoosiers then played a whole lot more angry in the second half. The Irish never matched that emotion.

The loss ruined massive efforts from Irish junior swingman V.J. Beachem and sophomore power forward Bonzie Colson. Playing his first meaningful Crossroads Classic minutes, Beachem, a Fort Wayne native, hit seven of his 10 shots from the field, including four of six from 3, for 18 points. It was one shy of his career high.

“He delivered the whole night,’ Brey said. “That’s a big step for him.”

Beachem sat with Brey on the post-game dais with a look of someone who had just chugged a bottle of sour milk.

“It really doesn’t matter how I played,” Beachem said. “We let one slip away.”

Colson, meanwhile, crushed his career best of 17. Active and aggressive much of the day, even against the zone, Colson scored a game-high 24 points with eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.

“We wanted this one,” Colson said. “Not to get the win hurt.”

Win or lose, it was going to be a quick turnaround for Notre Dame, which is back in action at home Monday against Youngstown State. The Irish cannot wait to flush this one and started over. Again.

“We’re moving on, man,” Brey said. “It’s a long, long haul.”

NOTRE DAME (7-3): Beachem 7-10 0-0 18, Jackson 4-17 1-2 9, Auguste 6-8 0-0 12, Vasturia 3-9 1-1 7, Colson 11-16 2-5 24, Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan 1-5 0-0 3, Farrell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-65 4-8 73.

INDIANA (9-3): Blackmon Jr. 3-11 2-2 11, Johnson 6-9 2-4 17, Williams 6-14 6-9 18, Ferrell 2-7 2-2 8, Bryant 4-8 2-2 10, Bielfeldt 1-3 0-0 2, Zeisloft 1-3 0-0 3, Anunoby 1-3 0-2 2, Niego 0-0 0-0 0, Hartman 3-5 2-2 9. Totals 27-63 16-23 80.

Halftime--Notre Dame 41-31. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 5-18 (Beachem 4-6, Ryan 1-4, Jackson 0-3, Vasturia 0-5), Indiana 10-20 (Johnson 3-5, Blackmon Jr. 3-5, Ferrell 2-4, Hartman 1-2, Zeisloft 1-3, Williams 0-1). Fouled Out--Auguste. Rebounds--Notre Dame 33 (Colson 8), Indiana 41 (Williams 10). Assists--Notre Dame 19 (Jackson 6), Indiana 13 (Hartman, Johnson 3). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 18, Indiana 11. A--NA.

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Notre Dame's Zach Auguste (30) gets pressure from Indiana's Collin Hartman (30) and Robert Johnson (4) during the Notre Dame-Indiana men's basketball game, Saturday at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)