Head coach Mike Brey tried to put a positive spin on a momentum-killing East Coast road swing, but Monday night’s 59-41 loss to No. 11/12 Georgetown was simply a clunker of historic proportions.
The No. 20/19 Fighting Irish, two days after being tripped up at St. John’s for its first loss in 10 games, followed up with their lowest-scoring effort since joining the league. No Irish player reached double-figures for the first time this season and a sub-par defensive night exacerbated the situation.
The defeat drops Notre Dame to 20-10 overall and 12-5 in Big East play. A victory would have clinched a double-bye in next week’s conference tournament in New York City. Instead, the Hoyas (22-6, 12-5) pulled even with the Irish for a third-place tie behind Syracuse (16-1) and Marquette (13-3). South Florida is 11-5 with two games remaining.
“I give a lot of credit to Georgetown’s defense,” Brey told Und.com after the game. “We had a hard time finding any kind of openings. Their length and size and quickness really bothered us. We had the tempo kind of where we wanted it, but we could never get into much of an offensive rhythm. I think you have to give Georgetown’s defense credit for that.”
The Hoyas took up residence inside the jerseys of the Irish, pressuring the full 40 minutes and allowing no easy looks. They dominated on the glass, outrebounding Notre Dame 32-19 and stifled Brey’s crew from behind the arc, where ND made just 3 of 17 attempts. The Irish are now 7-for-48 from 3-point land over the last two contests.
Georgetown shot 52.3 percent for the game, compared to Notre Dame’s 33.3 percent (16-for-48). Guard Jason Clark paced the Hoyas with 13 points and superb center Henry Sims, who leads the team in assists, finished with 12 points, six rebounds and a game-high five assists.
Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins and Scott Martin both had nine points, followed by Jerian Grant (eight) and Pat Connaughton (six). Junior forward Jack Cooley, who entered the contest averaging a double-double in Big East play, went missing, registering one bucket and no rebounds.
“I think it’s a little bit of a wakeup call for us. Life has been good for us,” Brey said. “The last time we lost two in a row, we came back and we got into a real good practice regimen, which we can do again, and we got on a little bit of a run. It’s a one-game season right now; we play Providence Friday. We’re preparing for one game. We need some good practice reps. We’re a little bit poor again, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s a good attention getter right now.”
Brey got after his team in the locker room at halftime, chiding Cooley in particular, after an uninspired initial 20 minutes that ended with a 28-18 Hoyas advantage. Martin opened the second half with a triple to cut the deficit to eight points, but the Irish were stone cold the rest of the way.
“I was disappointed and I talked to him a little bit at halftime about it,” Brey said. “I thought [Cooley’s] energy level was down a little bit. I don’t think it’s because he’s overtiring. He’s had good recovery time. He played 25 minutes and didn’t have a rebound; that’s amazing. All of our success this year has come off what he’s given us inside. We didn’t get much, but other guys weren’t good either.”
The Irish finish the regular season at home Friday against the Friars, and Brey plans to use every available minute before then to get his team back on track. But he’s not watching out for chunks of sky falling on the program.
“I really got after them at halftime, and I got after Jack at halftime,” he said. “I think some juices will be flowing at practice starting Wednesday morning. We need to go twice on Wednesday. I think in the midst of battle sometimes, teaching and talking to them and kind of identifying where we are was a key. I think I could do that in a levelheaded manner, and that’s always kind of been my approach.”