A fatigued, flat and unfocused Notre Dame men’s basketball team ran into a hot and energized Providence outfit that benefitted from its best home crowd of the year Saturday in a 71-54 domination by the Friars. With an opportunity to take another step towards securing a double-bye in next month’s Big East tournament, the Fighting Irish lost ground in the crowded top half of the league standings, slipping to 20-6 overall and 8-5 in conference play.
Tom Knight's 11-point performance was one of the few bright spots for Notre Dame in Saturday's loss at Providence
Providence, a program Irish head coach Mike Brey called the most “underrated” in the league following the game, improved to 14-11 overall and 6-7 in the conference. Chants of “overrated” battered Notre Dame’s eardrums at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Rhode Island.
The Fighting Irish didn’t have an answer defensively for reigning Big East Player of the Week Kadeem Batts, a 6-foot-10 junior forward that scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the first half. Providence was 14-for-29 (48.3 percent) from the field en route to a 34-26 lead at the break. The Friars looked effortless on offense, finding Batts for open looks, getting a pair of alley-oop scores by junior guard Cotton (19 points), one of the smallest players on the floor, and hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers, including one by reserve power forward Lee Goldsbrough at the halftime buzzer. Batts finished the first frame 7-for-9 from the field.
A bullet pass from junior guard Jerian Grant to senior forward Jack Cooley on the block resulted in a bucket that cut the deficit to 28-26 late in the half. Providence’s Josh Fortune drained a deep triple and Notre Dame, with hardly any movement on offense, couldn’t respond as senior forward Tom Knight missed a contested turnaround and freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid had an open look from behind the arc rattle out on the last two possessions.
The Irish closed the gap on the offensive glass (7-6) but were outrebounded 17-12 in the first frame. Grant accounted for only two foul shots on 0-for-3 shooting from the field, and junior point guard Eric Atkins and sophomore guard Pat Connaughton put up a collective goose egg.
Notre Dame was 11-for-27 (40.7 percent) from the field and 0-for-4 from behind the arc in the first half. Knight poured in nine of his 11 points in the first period to keep the Irish afloat. But the Friars came out firing to start the second half and a pair of triples by Cotton pushed the lead to 19 points. Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone was impotent through the rest of the game and Providence extended the advantage to 61-39 at the 10:06 mark.
“I think what I’m most disappointed about was … our defensive energy was not very good to start the game and [Providence] got so confident against us early,” Brey told UND.com after the loss. “It set the tone for the game. [The Friars] were read to play.”
Providence, winner of four straight, finished 29-for-66 (43.9 percent) from the field and 8-for-20 (40 percent) from deep to beat Notre Dame for the first time since a 73-59 decision in South Bend on Feb. 24, 2004. It was the first home victory over Notre Dame for the Friars since a 77-62 win on Feb. 28, 1998.
Notre Dame, the top 3-point shooting team in the league, shot a miserable 7.1 percent (1-for-14) from behind the arc — the only triple coming from Atkins halfway through the second period. The Irish were 22-for-55 (40 percent) from the field and were outrebounded 38-30.
Cooley led Notre Dame with 12 points and 11 rebounds, much of which came when the game was already out of reach. Reserve big man Garrick Sherman (senior) also added 11 points, and freshman forward Zach Auguste came off the bench for five points and four blocks. Atkins (seven points), Grant (five points) and Connaughton (scoreless) combined for 5-for-21 shooting.
“We really had no answers,” Brey said. “We could never get into an offensive rhythm. There wasn’t much me yelling or getting in people’s faces was going to do. We have a game coming Monday [at Pitt]. I’m trying to figure out the psychology of getting our energy back and our minds right to play a really good team Monday.
“Our guys are disappointed; they accept responsibility. They know they got thumped today. We got thumped as a unit and we need to regroup.”