Kyle Lowry's tip-in with one second left gave the Wildcats a 72-70 win over the hard-luck Irish, adding to the misery of the 2005-06 year for Notre Dame. The loss sends the Irish to 1-6 in the Big East and 10-8 overall. The newly configured conference, which expanded to 16 teams before the season started, does not send every squad to the league tournament in New York City. The bottom four are not invited and with trips to West Virginia and Louisville scheduled for next week, Notre Dame is in danger of missing out. This only adds to the crucial importance of the near upset over Villanova.
"First of all, they are very good," Irish head coach Mike Brey said. "They are a hell of a basketball team. When it's at 17, I'm wondering if it's going to get ugly in our building. I give our guys a lot of credit. We had a chance to win the basketball game. But you have to make your own luck sometimes, too. We've been in this position before. It's been a tough hump for us to get over."
Trailing 59-42 with 10 minutes to go, the Irish staged a furious comeback to excite the Joyce Center crowd. A 24-4 run, capped by two Chris Quinn free throws, gave Notre Dame a 66-63 lead with 1:38 remaining. After the teams exchanged some free throws, the Irish had the ball with under a minute to go and up 68-67. Quinn missed a three-pointer and the Wildcats' Allan Ray rebounded the ball, took it the length of the court and hit a bucket with a foul. The made free throw gave Villanova a 70-68 advantage. Ray, who was questionable for the game because of a hamstring injury, led the Wildcats with 23 points, 10 rebounds and no turnovers.
Quinn's dish to Torin Francis with under 15 seconds to go set the big man up for the tying lay-up. After a Wildcat timeout, Randy Foye drove right and missed a running shot. But Lowry, the shortest guy on the court at 6'1", somehow flew over the Notre Dame big men to tip-in the miss and win it for Villanova.
"He's a point guard but in our system we let him go for the glass because he's so good rebounding," Wildcat head coach Jay Wright said, whose team improved to 15-2 on the year and 6-1 in the Big East. "Normally, we always have him going for the offensive glass. He loves it and so much of rebounding is passion. Thank God we have him."
Quinn led all Notre Dame scorers with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The senior guard also pulled down nine rebounds but was once again in low spirits after the heart-breaking defeat.
"It was an up-and-down game," Quinn said. "Villanova is a great team. They have some explosive players. They started out well in the second half and got us in a hole. We did a great job of fighting back but we couldn't close it at the end.
"We keep putting ourselves in these situations. If we keep battling and putting ourselves in good situations, we'll have a chance."
Villanova did a superb job of defending Colin Falls, limiting him to only two shot attempts and two points for the entire game. Falls had been averaging 19 points per game in Big East play. Russell Carter's aggressive drives saw him get eight of his 14 points at the free throw line. Freshman Kyle McAlarney added 13 while Francis contributed 11 points and six rebounds.
Despite an off-shooting night (5-of-18), Foye ended the game with 18 points. Wildcat guard Mike Nardi picked up some his slack, piling up 22 points, including five made three-pointers. For the game, the vaunted Villanova backcourt hit 11 shots from behind the arc.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change hands nine times. The difference was Villanova shooting 50 percent from three-point range in the first twenty minutes to help them secure a 35-34 lead at intermission. Ray and Nardi each scored 13 first-half points for the Wildcats with two combining for seven made shots from behind the arc.
For Notre Dame, a balanced attack in the first half saw Quinn and Luke Zeller each score eight points in the first half. A McAlarney long-distance bomb gave the Irish their largest lead at 24-17. It capped an 8-0 run for Notre Dame that also included a thunderous alley oop dunk by Carter from Quinn that brought the usually quiet Irish crowd to their feet. Villanova retook the lead off of two three-pointers from Nardi and kept it going into halftime. Notre Dame shot a higher percentage than the Wildcats in the first half and outrebounded them 21-15 but was still unable to overcome Villanova'a ability to hit the three-point shot.