Gut Shot

Notre Dame's calling card in 2012, late-game focus and execution, was nowhere to be found in Friday night's season-ending defeat.

The inability to hold a 10-point second half lead…failure to catch a basketball…failure to complete a 25-foot simple pass within a 10-foot radius of a teammate on the Irish sideline...the inability to stop Xavier guard Tu Holloway from getting where he wanted to go on the basketball court.

And yes, an ill-timed (technically correct but completely unnecessary) lane violation ended another Notre Dame basketball season in disappointing fashion last night.

Throw in five missed free throws in a paltry nine attempts over the 40-minute contest (more aggressive Xavier took 27 shots from the charity stripe) and Notre Dame's players, coaches, and its weary fan base have the latest in an endless line of March moments to make them mad.

For the better part of two months, a youth-filled, undervalued Notre Dame squad closed out basketball games. Against better teams, against teams that rose to their challenge, at home, on the road, you name it, the Irish found a way.

That wasn't the case last night, as Mike Brey's ‘cruel competitors' couldn't come up with successive defensive stops or hit the dagger jump shots on which it thrived during their regular season run.

Said Brey of the head-shaking lane violation error: "Just shock and disbelief. You always hear that ... `You can't call that at the end of a game' or it's just `Let the kids play the game out.' And it hurts to lose on a call that – I mean, we didn't lose on that call, but it hurts to end the game like that."

Brey's team shot 51 percent; his center didn't miss in eight field goal attempts (but erred on four of his six free throws); and his off-guard nearly played the role of hero, as Jerian Grant dished out seven assists and hit a trio of crucial three-point shots in the game's final eight minutes.

But Grant's dead-center, potential go-ahead three-point bomb hit squarely on the front of the rim with nine seconds remaining. The redshirt-freshman that unofficially led the Irish in crucial jump shots and key plays made this season came up just short. It marked the second time in the last three seasons that Notre Dame lost a chance at the win (or overtime) in the final seconds.

Brey's Irish finished 22-12 and an unforeseen 13-5 in conference play. They advanced to the semi-finals of their conference tournament and rebounded from a poor effort in that defeat to play former #8 (but since, not-so-great) Xavier to a standstill.

The 2012 basketball season was a resounding success and pleasant surprise for fans that followed the team's drastic improvement, program-record conference winning streak, and successes vs. national powers (undefeated and No. 1) Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, and Connecticut.

And for the first time in recent memory, the rotation will remain relatively intact, with an athletic trio of freshmen joining next winter.

Notre Dame played its best basketball game in (at least) three weeks. The program surpassed all realistic expectations to get to that point this spring…but it again left a win out there in mid-March.

Lehigh, conquerors of two-seed Duke, will play Xavier for a berth in the Sweet 16.

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