Apple Bites Irish Once More

Notre Dame is the only Big East Conference team this season to allow 80 or more points in five consecutive league games. That tells you what you need to know about the Irish as they prepare to jet back to South Bend, early losers at the Big East Tournament once again. IrishEyes Magazine Managing Editor Alan Tieuli provides the sobering details courtside from Madison Square Garden.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

March 12, 2003

Defensive Failures
Doom Struggling Irish

By Alan Tieuli
 IrishEyes Magazine

NEW YORK (IE) – The first three teams disqualified from contention for the Big East Tournament championship in 2003 – Virginia Tech, Rutgers…and Notre Dame. 

Based on recent performances, that sounds about right. 

Make no mistake, Notre Dame is an NCAA Tournament team but at this moment it is also the worst defensive squad in its league.   That was evident against Wednesday as the Irish ruined your lunch break with an 83-80 defeat to St. John's in the first-round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. 

"They got us figured out," Irish coach Mike Brey admitted later, referencing his Big East's coaching brethren. "It's good to get out of this league." 

The Irish, so promising in December, continued their calendar year 2003 stumble.  No Big East team has allowed more than 80 points in five consecutive games, as Notre Dame has.  It's highly unlikely any team qualifying for the NCAA Tournament will go in with a poorer "last 10" record than the Irish's 4-6. 

And, equally frustrating, the young men from Northern Indiana remain Accidental Tourists when they visit New York in March.   This loss leaves Notre Dame with an all-time Big East Tournament mark of 2-8, with only West Virginia (1-7) having a more onerous mark at the World's Greatest Arena. 

"I thought this was going to be our year to make a run.  I had that feeling," said senior Matt Carroll, wearing a look of exhaustion and bewilderment after a personally sub-par 14-point effort. "We just haven't had much luck down here." 

Luck had little to do with this performance.  The Irish were flat out miserable in the first-half and found themselves down 23 (51-28) with just under 19 minutes to play in the game. A furious rally closed the deficit to two points, and freshman Torin Francis (19 points, six rebounds) was at the line for two shots with 10.4 seconds left. 

The 19-year-old missed both, and after St. John's Marcus Hatten made of one free throw at 8.6 seconds, Carroll was slightly off on a 25-foot runner just before time expired.  But there should be no gnashing of teeth over those efforts.  This game was lost on the defensive end.  Again. 

"Perhaps we're not doing something right, (but) I don't know what it is," said sophomore point guard Chris Thomas, who had 18 points and nine assists.  "We're playing soft." 

Soft can be defined easily in this one.   In the first-half the Irish had 15 rebounds total while allowing 13 offensive rebounds to the 16-12 Johnnies.  For the game, St. John's – the 13th best three-point shooting team in the conference – nailed 10-of-20. 

The latter stat shouldn't surprise you by now.  Notre Dame is a distant 14th (last) in the Big East in three-point defense and with this performance has now allowed league opposition to make a staggering 40-percent of all treys. 

"We're overhelping at times and leaving the wrong guys," said Carroll. 

Simply analysis, but difficult to fix.   Notre Dame, 22-9 overall after an 18-3 start, will try  to solve that problem over the next week as it prepares in quiet solitude for the NCAA Tournament.  The Irish traveling party leaves New York Thursday morning to head back to a campus virtually empty during spring break. 

"We want to be playing," said senior Dan Miller, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, but also some serious defensive lapses.  "We're very upset about this loss and we're going to have a lot of time to think about it.  We didn't want that." 

St. John's was a worthy opponent.   The Red Storm have now won four games in a row – including a March 2 victory over Duke.  Head coach Mike Jarvis feels the addition of 6-6 junior Grady Reynolds to the starting line-up during this streak has revitalized the team's rebounding.   It showed. 

"We just got to do a better job on the backboards," said Brey, noting his team's 25-15 first-half glass hammering. "That was deflating." 

Worse, St. John's would often get an offensive board and then kick it out for an open three by freshman Elijiah Ingram (17 points on five-for-eight on 3's) and Willie Shaw (12 points, four-for-seven). 

Hatten, St. John's All-Big East first-team representative, had only seven points at the half, but his team still led by a Top Stories