"We made it our kind of game," said WSU Head Coach Tony Bennett. "These guys bought in at a new level tonight playing against a very talented offensive team. And each one of them stepped up in their own right and were significant."
"I think you certainly take your hat off to Washington State," said Irish Head Coach Mike Brey. They imposed their will on us. You know, the first four minutes we had that thing going up and down a little bit, but after that we couldn't really get it moving."
The game opened like a prize fight, the fighters jabbing and counter punching, feeling each other out. Tory Jackson hit a three on the opening possession, and Kyle McAlarney followed with a runner in the lane. Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes answered with a three and a two point basket in the lane en route to a 7-7 tie at the first media time out.
ND came out of the break misfiring, and WSU was ready to take the initiative. The Cougars scored the next 10 points to take a 17-7 lead. ND finally stopped the run on a Jackson drive and pass to Luke Harangody at the 9:38 mark, but relief was short lived.
Washing State's defense continued to frustrate the Irish for the rest of the half. The Irish shooters missed when they got open looks at the basket, and those were few and far between. When Caleb Forrest hit a 25-footer with 0:10 in the half, the Cougars' had a 15 point lead. Rob Kurz closed the half with a drive to the basket, and make the score 32-19.
ND made only 7 of 28 first half shots, 2 of 10 from three point range; but it could have been worse. 4 of 4 from the free throw line and a 20-16 rebounding advantage kept the game from being completely out of control, at least for the time being.
It looked like the second half would be different when McAlarney opened with a three, but it was just a tease. The Irish continued to misfire, and WSU extended a 38-22 lead when Rochestie fed Robbie Cowgill for a layup at the 16:10 mark.
Again, ND tried to mount a comeback. McAlarney hit a runner in the lane. Zach Hillesland and Harangody made 2 free throws apiece. Then McAlarney hit a three, and the lead was down to 7 with 13:49 to play; but Derrick Low stopped the ND run with a pair of baskets. McAlarney fed Kurz for a layup to keep the lead under 10, 42-33; but that was as close as the Irish got the rest of the evening.
ND never stopped hustling, but the rest of the game was an exercise in frustration. The Irish forced shots, drove into traffic, and allowed second chance baskets while looking for one last spark that never came.
Low led all scorers with 18 points, and Weaver added 15 points. McAlarney led ND with 12 points, and Harangody added 10; but the two All Big East players made just 8-30 shots.
Notre Dame exceeded expectations throughout the season with a 24-8 record and a second place finish in the Big East. The season deserved a better end, but a quarterfinal loss in the conference tournament and a one-sided loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament will leave as bitter a taste in the players' mouths as it will their fans'. "The feeling right now is disappointment, obviously, with myself, with my performance, you know," said Harangody. "I kind of feel like I let the guys down."
McAlarney echoed the sentiment. "For me, it wasn't my best performance. I know the other guys feel the same way. Like Luke said, you kind of feel like you let the other guys down. It's very hard to deal with. Very hard to end the season like that."
Harangody corralled a career high 22 rebounds.
Notre Dame averaged 80.6 points for the season. Washington State allowed 80 points just once all season, in an 81-74 loss at UCLA on January 12th.
Before Saturday's game, ND's lowest scoring output this season cane on November 18th in the 68-64 loss to Baylor.
ND led the nation in assists, averaging more than 17 per game. Saturday's 7 assists were its season low.
Saturday's loss ended Rob Kurz's Notre Dame career. "Here is a young man who scored a thousand points at Notre Dame," Brey said. "You look at the company he's in on that list, it's staggering. He's a guy who came to us 200 pounds, mono, a broken jaw. He's a great story. I wish we could have extended his season. I will always be indebted to his leadership, how he set the tone as an example of a worker in our program, a guy who made himself better.