McHugh Mattis torched Notre Dame for 23 rebounds and 16 rebounds as South Florida beat the Irish 69-63 in Tampa. The loss sends Notre Dame to 18-5 on the season and 6-4 in the Big East. The conference mark moves them to sixth in the league standings. The top four teams receive byes in the Big East Tournament. The Irish play next on Thursday. They'll travel to Chicago to take on DePaul. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 PM.
It was a puzzling loss for a team apparently on the right track after the big victory against Syracuse. Yes, it was on the road and it's always tough to win on the road in college basketball. Yes, junior forward Rob Kurz, who is the team's leading rebounder and second leading scorer, was not 100 percent with an injury. But for a squad now vying for NCAA Tournament seeding and a bye in the conference tournament, this was a missed opportunity. Thirteen days ago, Notre Dame beat the Bulls by 24 in South Bend.
South Florida (12-11, 3-6) had won three league games in two years. With Kurz not fully healthy, the Bulls took advantage down low. Mattis recorded his fourth double-double of the year. The 23 points and 16 rebounds are both season-highs for the 6-6 senior forward. For the game, South Florida outrebounded Notre Dame 47-36 and had 15 offensive rebounds, which turned into easy second-chance points.
The Irish showed some fight in the second half. They were down 43-35 with 14 minutes remaining. But Notre Dame went on a 14-3 run to take a three-point lead at 49-46. Instrumental in the burst was Colin Falls. The senior guard connected on four three-pointers during the streak. Falls was in the zone on Saturday night, scoring a game-high 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including six made baskets from behind the arc.
The Bulls responded with their own run. They went on a 13-4 burst to turn a three-point deficit into a 61-53 advantage with 2:30 to go. Mattis scored 11 points during the run to give South Florida a late comfortable lead. Notre Dame would not get closer than seven points in the final few minutes.
Russell Carter was the league's second best scorer at 18 points per game coming into Saturday night. But for the second time this season, the athletic and long South Florida defenders caused him major problems. Carter shot 5-of-15 for the game, good for 14 points. In two games against the Bulls this year, he shot 9-of-28 from the field and 2-for-12 from three-point range.
Kurz battled through his injury for 19 minutes of action but missed both his shots from the field and did not score. Freshman Tory Jackson had another solid outing in his maturation process. The point guard scored six points but more importantly dished out a career-high 11 assists. Notre Dame was second in the conference in three-point shooting. They connected on just 9-of-28 on Saturday from that distance. If Falls is taken out of the question, the other players hit only 3-of-15.