With the game tied, Larry Wright's three-pointer with under 10 seconds remaining was the difference in the ballgame as St. John's upset Notre Dame 71-68 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The loss sends the Irish to 16-4 on the season and 4-3 in the conference, which is a game and a half behind conference leader Pittsburgh. Villanova comes into the Joyce Center on Saturday and tip-off is at 4:00 PM with the television coverage on ESPNU. It magnifies a problem for this Notre Dame team. They've yet to win a true road game in 2006-07. The Irish are 0-3 on the year with losses to Georgetown, Villanova and now the Red Storm. The first two were by double digits. On Tuesday, it was a nail biter but the result was the same as the previous contests.
It was a back and forth affair the final six minutes of the second half. Notre Dame trailed 66-60 when Russell Carter narrowed the gap to four on two made free throws. Senior guard Colin Falls's three-pointer closed the deficit to 66-65 with just over five minutes remaining. Aaron Spears made it 68-65 St. John's with a layup. After a few failed possessions on both ends, Tory Jackson's basket cut the lead to 68-67 with 1:12 left to go on the clock. After a stop on the defensive end, Falls was fouled. With a chance to put the Irish up, he missed the first free throw but hit the second one to tie the game up at 68-all to set up the frantic final 40 seconds.
After a timeout, the Red Storm (12-8, 3-4) wound the clock down. There was a four second difference between the game clock and shot clock. Wright ran through some screens and hit the game-winning bucket from three-point land with nine seconds to go. The Irish had one final chance to tie it up but Carter's long shot from behind the arc was off the mark.
If the attempt would have gone in for Carter, it would have added to maybe his best night ever in a Notre Dame uniform. The senior guard scored a career-high 32 points on 10-of-19 shooting. He also added six rebounds and four assists to a monster performance. This was one game after his first non-double digit scoring performance of the season last Sunday versus South Florida.
Carter was at his best at the beginning of the second half. With the Irish down 49-41, he scored the first 11 points after halftime to turn an eight-point deficit into a three-point Notre Dame advantage. His previous two career-highs were this year as well. Carter scored 27 points in a 99-85 win over Alabama and then was one better when he poured in 28 in a victory against Portland. Those games were at home. This one was on the road in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Carter, who came into the contest third in scoring in the Big East, is having a conference Player of the Year type of season.
Once again, a slow first half hurt Notre Dame. The Red Storm raced out to a 49-41 halftime lead. The Irish actually came out of the gate fast, staking themselves to a 11-5 lead. But St. John's went on a 22-4 run to take the advantage at 25-15. The player who killed Notre Dame on defense was Lamont Hamilton. The 6-10 senior scored 23 points in the game, all before intermission. He also grabbed 11 rebounds, including the final one off of Carter's tying miss. The Red Storm shot 59 percent and hustled for seven offensive rebounds in the first half, creating easy baskets around the hoop. Falls, who finished the contest with 13 points, gave the Irish some momentum heading into halftime with a three-pointer right before the buzzer. It all set up for a fantastic finish that left Notre Dame still searching for answers on the road.