"Marquette is a good team but we didn't play well enough to win the game," summed up a disappointed Francis. "Those key possessions are the difference between wins and losses. We've experienced a lot of those key possessions throughout the season. We just didn't play attention to detail enough. We didn't get that loose ball or that key defensive stop."
Turnovers and missed opportunities once again doomed Notre Dame down the stretch. But Francis did his part to put the Irish in a position to win. The senior scored 16 points and pulled down 15 rebounds against the Golden Eagles. It was Francis's first double double since January 9th and his highest rebounding total of the season.
"I was active and more aggressive," Francis said of his play on Saturday night. "I was aggressive on the offensive end as far as taking it to their defense and kicking it out and going after the boards."
Head coach Mike Brey surely appreciated the performance. On a night when the Irish's top two scorers, Chris Quinn and Colin Falls, combined to shoot just 4-of-21 from the field, Francis filled the scoring void and provided a presence in the paint.
"We can't ask much more out of him," Brey said. "I hope he can do that another two regular season games. That's what I would talk to him about. As disappointed about the loss as we are, can we get that out of him two more nights?"
"It was hard to take him out tonight. He was just real good and controlled the defensive backboard for us. He is not always in an offensive rhythm but tonight they were hugging our guys early and he was able to get some stuff. That helped us."
The difficulty of this final season for Francis is a tough pill to swallow for the senior. Notre Dame has lost 10 Big East games by eight points or less. Some of the most backbreaking losses a fan can imagine have happened to the Irish. The loss to Marquette puts Notre Dame in a tie for 14th place with DePaul, a game back of St. John's, Providence and Louisville in the standings. Only the top-12 make it to the conference tournament and the Irish's trip on Wednesday to play the Friars looms large if Notre Dame plans on making it to New York City. Francis knows the time is ticking on his collegiate playing career.
"These are my last few games," Francis said. "Depending upon the outcomes of these games, it'll determine if I play another college game at the end of the regular season. Myself and the rest of the older guys on the team…these are the most important games we're going to play. The first step, the only step we're worrying about, is going out and winning against Providence. That's going to be a major step in trying to make it to the tournament. If we lose that one, then we have to start hoping other teams start losing. That's not a good position to be in."