NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Over the weekend, Notre Dame lost any shot at finishing in the top eight of the Big East and on Monday night against Villanova, the Irish missed out on any chance of finishing league play with a .500 record and any decent chance of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
The Wildcats (24-6, 12-5) used a late spurt to run away from Notre Dame to a 77-60 victory. In a game that featured nine ties and 11 lead changes, Notre Dame trailed by just one with 11 minutes to go before Villanova finished on a 26-10 run.
The Irish (16-13, 7-10) wrap up the regular season with a home game against St. John's on Friday when they will hold Senior Day ceremonies.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey will not talk about the postseason with his club this week.
"I don't think there is any postseason to be even talking about," Brey said. "Obviously, we're going to be in the postseason of some sort, but I don't know if it's worth discussing that now."
If Notre Dame does not go on a magical run in the Big East Conference Tournament that postseason will be in the NIT, although the Irish are not accepting that as their fate yet.
"I don't think we're accepting anything. Anything can happen, so why give up now?" said Ryan Ayers.
Ayers led all scorers with 25 points on eight of 12 shooting, including seven of 10 in three-pointers, but Luke Harangody, who finished with 18 points, was the only other Notre Dame player to have more than five points.
"It's upsetting," Ayers said. "Everybody put it on the line, it just didn't happen so a lot of different emotions are going through our heads right now."
"They played us tough, they D'd up pretty well, they hit big shots and they came out and played with more heart than us," Harangody said.
After playing an even first half, consecutive up-and-under moves from Harangody gave Notre Dame a 36-32 lead and brought the crowd to its feet in the opening moments of the second half, but a 7-0 run capped by a Reynolds three-pointer had the Wildcats on top 39-36 a minute and a half later.
Notre Dame responded with seven quick points, including four from Ayers, to regain a 43-39 advantage, but a 10-2 Villanova spurt changed the lead again. Back-to-back threes from Reynolds before a Harangody hoop followed by consecutive buckets from Cunningham allowed the Wildcats to open up a 49-45 lead with 12:17 left in the contest.
"We were up four in the second half, you feel you're in pretty good position and then Reynolds gets going," Brey said.
Ayers hit a three-pointer that made it a one-point game, but Villanova responded with a 16-1 run to take a 67-51 lead with just under five minutes remaining. Reynolds and Redding each knocked down three-pointers while Clark had six points during the streak and the Irish never got close again.
"That six minute stretch in there, we weren't ourselves," Ayers said.
"They made some big shots at some key times, off their pick-and-roll, they shot behind the screen well," Jackson said. "They did a lot of things at some key times and we let it get away."
"They hit some tough shots and got up on us on the defensive end and forced some key turnovers," he said.
Harangody came out with 4:50 left and the Irish trailing by 16 and did not return. Brey said that he was trying to get a new flow on offense while protecting Harangody who has a tendency to get emotional. A similar situation occurred in the loss at UCLA and Harangody said that he was miffed, but he did not have much to say on Monday.
"I don't really know what to say about that," he said. "The game was kind of out of reach at the point I guess. I didn't really know what was going on to be honest."
The Irish and the Wildcats played even for most of the first half and went into the locker room knotted at 32-32.
Three-pointers from McAlarney and Ayers along with a pair of baskets from Harangody helped the Irish offense to a fast start, but Reynolds made his first three shot attempts, including a three, as the Wildcats kept pace and trailed just 12-11 after six minutes.
After Villanova took an 18-15 lead on a Reynolds three, Harangody tied it up on a bucket and a free throw before an Ayers three gave the Irish a 21-18 advantage with eight minutes remaining in the half.
Villanova fought back from a four-point deficit to take a 29-27 lead before an Ayers three-pointer as the shot clock expired put the Irish back on top 2:30 before halftime. A basket by Peoples put Notre Dame up three, but Corey Stokes drilled a three-pointer to tie the game with less than a minute remaining and the game went to the half 32-32.
Ayers led the Irish with 12 first-half points, making four of six of his six field goal attempts, all threes. Ayers also had a pair of big blocks, one against Reynolds on a fastbreak and a deflection of a Cunningham shot as time expired in the half.
Harangody had nine points in the first half, but no other Notre Dame player had more than four in the first 20 minutes.
Reynolds was Villanova's top man in the first half with 11 points and Cunningham had eight, but like the Irish, no other Wildcat had more than four.