The Big East Conference era for Notre Dame men’s basketball ends without a regular-season or league tournament title. In their final crack at advancing to the conference finals, the Fighting Irish were guilty of too many miscues to overcome against the nation’s fourth-ranked team, losing to Louisville, 69-57, in Friday’s semifinals in New York.
Peyton Siva and the Cardinals were too much for the Irish, which exited the Big East Tournament the final time Friday.
Notre Dame, the sixth seed in the final Big East Championship before the longtime alliance splits up at the conclusion of this academic year, erased a seven-point deficit with six minutes to go in the first half on a 3-pointer by sophomore Pat Connaughton, who had been on fire from behind the arc all week, but the No. 2 seed Cardinals closed with a 10-3 run for a 32-25 halftime cushion.
Louisville maintained the lead throughout the second frame, aided by sloppy Irish possessions (16 turnovers in the game), and capitalized on second opportunities to move on to Saturday’s title game against fifth-seeded and 19th-ranked Syracuse. The Orange knocked off top-seeded and fifth-ranked Georgetown 58-55 in overtime earlier in the evening. It’s the third straight year the Cardinals sent Notre Dame packing in the league semis.
On a night that when senior forward Jack Cooley got back on track (co-team-high 14 points), No. 24 Notre Dame (25-9) didn’t have enough firepower to accompany its big man for a full 40 minutes in the team’s fourth straight semifinal appearance. And as the Irish struggled to shoot (36.5 percent), they fired rounds into their own feet.
Senior center Garrick Sherman scored in spurts en route to eight points, but committed five turnovers. Junior guard Jerian Grant matched Cooley’s 14 points, but his six giveaways proved extremely costly. Connaughton drained 3-of-6 triples for nine points, with a significant dropoff from the rest of the lineup after that. Senior point guard Eric Atkins, senior forward Tom Knight and freshmen forwards Cameron Biedscheid and Zach Auguste combined for 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting.
"I love that we fought back and had some chances, but just probably too many turnovers at key times," Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Louisville’s Russ Smith torched Notre Dame for 20 points on slicing drives and mid-range jumpers, and Peyton Siva added 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Both finished the night with six assists for the fourth-ranked Cardinals (28-5), which shot 45.5 percent from the floor and 7-of-14 from behind the arc to win their ninth consecutive game. Siva, last year’s Big East Championship MVP, also registered seven steals, which ties a single-game tournament record. Head coach Rick Pitino’s group outrebounded the Irish, 30-29.
So many times in Brey's 13 years at the helm he's talked about playing in the Garden on Saturday night. But for one final time, he's walking into the brisk New York City night without being able to enjoy that experience.
"I'm very disappointed we could never get to Saturday," he said. "I guess I got to say, 'Can we get to Sunday afternoon now in the new league?' or whatever. But I'm thrilled that we played in the semis in such a magical night here.
"So a little bit of unfinished business, but we'll get over it quickly and get ready to prepare for next week. ... I've always said I've been as proud of being a Big East guy as I am a Notre Dame guy. We'll miss that. I do like the fact that there's some of those people coming to this new league with us, but unbelievable memories of the league and especially this building."
An Atkins layup in transition cut Notre Dame’s deficit to 38-35 with 13:19 to play, but Louisville countered with a Luke Hancock 3-pointer and drives by Smith and Siva to push the lead back to eight points. The Irish missed the front end of a one-and-one, turned the ball over on consecutive possessions to fall further behind, 50-41, at the 6-minute mark.
Another Connaughton trey gave Notre Dame a temporary lift before the next three possessions ended with misses and a turnover. The Cardinals’ Chane Behanan got to the bucket, Hancock buried a 3-pointer and Smith connected on a jumper for a 13-point cushion and the knockout blow.
"Their pressure on the full court started us off going fast, and by the time we got settled in our offense, there wasn't a lot of time left on the clock," Cooley said. "Putting that pressure on it kind of helped to eliminate some of the post feeds we were getting the first two games. All their defense stems from their pressure."