The Irish fell behind early and never recovered in losing 102-87 to the Wildcats at the Pavilion. Notre Dame fell to 15-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big East. Villanova improved to 13-5 overall and 2-3 in the league. The contest was bigger for the Wildcats but it was a disappointing loss for an Irish team hell bent on redeeming themselves from the Georgetown contest. Notre Dame will next play South Florida on Sunday at the Joyce Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 PM.
Just like the game against the Hoyas, Notre Dame committed the cardinal sin on the road: they fell behind early and never recovered. Villanova jumped out to a 16-6 early advantage and never led by less than six points the rest of the contest. It's hard to play from behind in a tough, road environment. Also, the Irish never led in the game.
The 102 points scored by the Wildcats are the most allowed by Notre Dame this season. Earlier in the year, the Irish surrendered 87 in a victory over Lehigh. The lack of defense was a theme of the night for Notre Dame. Villanova shot 56 percent from the field and 10-fo-21 from three-point range. In the road loss to Georgetown, the Irish allowed the Hoyas to shoot 50 percent. This type of defensive performances away from the Joyce Center will not cut it in the Big East.
Notre Dame did have some bright spots. Russell Carter scored a team-high 26 points, including six made three-pointers. The senior guard came into the contest the conference's third leading scorer in the league, just 0.9 behind Syracuse's Demetris Nichols and 0.8 behind Villanova's Curtis Sumpter. Nichols scored 22 points in a one-point home win over Cincinnati on Wednesday while Sumpter finished up with 21. Carter outdid all three in the losing effort. Also, Colin Falls hit five three-pointers and finished the contest with 17 points. For the game, Notre Dame hit 15 shots from behind the arc. The problem: they lived there all night. The Irish shot 34 times from three-point range.
Despite Carter and Falls's performances, Villanova had their share of impressive outings. The Wildcats did it in both halves, scoring 50 points in the first half and 52 in the second. Four Villanova players scored 18 points or more, led by freshman Scottie Reynolds 27. It topped his career-high set on January 6th against DePaul by two points. Another career-high was turned in by Dante Cunningham and his 19 points. Mike Nardi contributed 18 points.
To its credit, Notre Dame did not go down without a fight. Despite being down by double digits for most of game, the Irish closed to 79-72 on a three-pointer from Carter. But as was the case, Notre Dame could not get a defensive stop to come any closer. Another three-point basket from Reynolds put the Villanova lead back up to 10 points and erased any hope for a magical comeback win.