DAYTON, Ohio — Notre Dame was violently ejected from the NCAA Championship Friday in the program’s third-worst postseason loss. With a 76-58 loss to Iowa State at University of Dayton Arena, the largest margin of defeat of the season for the 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish, head coach Mike Brey and his comfortless crew enters an offseason of soul searching.
Irish head coach Mike Brey slipped to 6-9 in NCAA Championship play after Friday's loss to Iowa State.
Against a 10th-seeded Cyclones program (23-11) with a penchant for piling up 3-point baskets, No. 7 seed Notre Dame wasn’t run out of the West Region because of a barrage of Iowa State strikes from beyond the arc. The slovenly Irish simply were nowhere near matching Iowa State’s intensity. By the time Notre Dame, which committed an eye-popping 17 turnovers, realized that, the game was out of reach.
“We've been so consistent in the regular season, and we haven't been able to do much here,” Brey said. “That's what keeps me up at night and keeps me trying to figure out how we can be better at it. That's what's very extremely disappointing about tonight. Go back to the drawing board and try and figure it out. … But this is a hump we can't get over yet, but we'll keep trying to figure it out.”
Kentucky handed Notre Dame a 33-point loss in the NCAA Tournament in 1958, and Washington State beat the Irish by 20 points in 2008. Friday’s 18-point loss started to spiral out of control when the Cyclones closed out the first half with a 19-5 run, including a coast-to-coast layup by Will Clyburn in the final seconds that gave his squad a 35-23 halftime advantage.
With 14 first-half giveaways, the Irish, which finished the year with a 25-10 record, allowed ISU 13 more field goal attempts through the first 20 minutes (34-21). Coming out of intermission, Notre Dame showed a modicum of life before registering just two buckets over a six-minute span. Iowa State did finish with nine 3-pointers, more than one fewer than its season average, but the forward tandem of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang did most of the damage with 36 combined points. Niang went 9-of-13 from the floor en route to a game-high 19 points and Ejim added 17.
Irish senior forwards Jack Cooley and Tom Knight each posted 14 points to lead Notre Dame, which was 22-of-51 (43.1 percent) from the floor and 4-of-17 from behind the arc (23.5 percent). The Cyclones shot 49.2 percent from the field (29-of-59) and 42.9 percent from deep.
“It was hard to play two big guys,” Brey said. “We tried to go small a couple times, and in hindsight maybe we should have played more that way. They're very, very hard to guard. They're really good. And with Niang in the middle kind of wheeling and all those guys spreading you out, they're kind of a nightmare matchup. Again, I don't want to take anything away. They're just really good, and they're men. They're really men.”
Junior guard Jerian Grant scored nine points but turned the ball over five times, and junior point guard Eric Atkins was just 20 percent from the field for seven points. Freshman forward Cam Biedscheid went 0-for-5 shooting for one point and classmate Zach Auguste registered six points. After lighting up Madison Square Garden at the Big East tournament, sophomore Pat Connaughton only attempted two shots and ended the night with three points.
“I'll give 50 percent credit to their defense, and then 50 percent is I just thought we played so fast,” Brey said. “We played fast in the half‑court. We rushed things. My guards have been so good all year with controlling tempo and making decisions, and it just wasn't a very good night for them. When our guards aren't in a good rhythm, as a matter of fact, we probably can't beat anybody, and that was kind of the tone. We never really were able to recover.”
Iowa State’s 76 points were the most by an Irish opponent all year in a game that finished in regulation, and Notre Dame’s eight total assists were the fewest this season (averaged 17 per game).
“That team is so efficient if you let them get into a rhythm, where they can swing the ball around without any type of pressure,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. “So that was one of the biggest keys we thought was to come out there and really make it difficult, try to get into some passing lanes, pick them up full court, because their guards play so many minutes. We felt we had some depth and we could wear them down if we did pick them up full court and stay in for 40 minutes.”