In retrospect, this was not a great matchup for PC. Sure, Notre Dame entered the game 4-10… one game behind the Friars, but the Irish had a number of things going for them. Number one, after a 1-8 start, there was no question that the Irish were now playing their best ball of the season. Just a week ago, Notre Dame took Connecticut into overtime at UConn before falling by a point. Notre Dame is not a bad team. They just were not winning games. Coach Mike Brey told the Providence Journal, "I love our team. I said that when we were 1-8. We've played some good basketball. We just haven't closed the deal very well."
In addition, Notre Dame is the most potent offensive team in the Big East. Dominated by juniors and seniors, the Irish start four guards, all in the 6'3-6'4 range, and all deadly three point shooters, along with 6'11, 255 senior Torin Francis in the middle. For relief, Mike Brey brings in 6'9, 245 senior Rick Cornett and 6'9, 240 junior Rob Kurz.
Teams have no choice but to chase the three point snipers, but that leaves a team like PC vulnernable in the middle. Additionally, spending your energy chasing the guards around the perimeter can be exhausting to a team with a short bench.
In short, Notre Dame presents a lot of problems right now for the Friars, and they fully exploited those problems.
Even after the Friars raced to an early 10-2 lead, there was no time to feel comfortable. Notre Dame started scoring, PC couldn't get stops, and the Friars weren't moving on offense. For the remainder of the half, points were tough to come by for PC, and Notre Dame outscored Providence 40-28, for a 42-38 halftime lead.
In the second half, PC picked up the pace on defense and stopped turning the ball over, but continued to have problems scoring. On four straight possessions, PC trailed by two but couldn't convert. The Friars finally caught Notre Dame, going up 60-59, but a series of forced shots and Chris Quinn baskets keyed a 9-0 run that put the Irish up 68-60, and in effect, had PC playing catch-up for the remainder of the game.
PC did close the gap to 70-66, but Notre Dame put the game away on another driving basket by Quinn and a relentless march to the free throw line as the Friars were forced to foul. For the game, Notre Dame converted 21 of 25 free throws, while PC struggled from the line, making just 8 of 14.
Ultimately, Notre Dame's 82-75 win was fueled by their free throw advantage, a whopping 39-27 edge on the boards, superior experience, and three players, Quinn, Francis and Russell Carter, all stepping up to make huge shots or grab critical rebounds. On the flip side, Sharaud Curry turned in a gutsy performance, leading all scorers with 25 points, Charles Burch played a strong two-way game, Jonathan Kale battled inside, and Weyinmi Efejuku rebounded from several subpar performances with a nice effort.
Unfortunately for the Friars, Donnie McGrath had a Senior Night to forget, scoring 9 points on 3 of 13 shooting, and forced several bad shots in critical situations. PC's prospects for success weren't improved by an uneven game from Herbert Hill, who was pushed around the paint by Francis and company, and a no-show by Randall Hanke.
So, the season boils down to a game at Marquette on Saturday. Even with a win, PC's 2005-2006 season very well might be finished.
PRESS CONFERENCE EXCERPTS
"If you told me before the game that we'd make more threes than Notre Dame and lose, I'd tell you you're crazy. It happened tonight because their inside guys really went to work and beat us on the glass. It's the first time in seven games that we've been outrebounded. We just didn't do the job in the paint."
"We held Falls to six and Quinn got his average, but the other guys hurt us. You have to pick your poison against them and we did. We decided to take away the three point line, but that left our guys alone inside. It was mano a mano and you have to get stops."
"We didn't execute our offense when it got to 60-60. We had three minutes where we were forcing bad shots, and they pulled away during that stretch. They were tougher inside and we didn't run our offense. In the first half, our half court offense was pretty solid."
"The kids are disappointed, I'm disappointed, but the Big East Tournament did not start today. We have another game and we're going to get on the plane and go try to win on Saturday. We'll be there on Saturday. It's not like we're going to play the San Antonio Spurs. I respect their team, but there's a lot at stake in March, so we'll go there and we'll battle."
"We've got to go inside more, but our big guys weren't holding their ground. They were getting pushed off the blocks. We played Jon because he was the only guy not getting pushed by Francis. Weymi and Sharaud had almost as many rebounds as our big guys. That's a concern."
"Randall didn't look like he was ready tonight to play in this type of game because of the physical nature at the defensive end. It was a physical battle down there on the defensive end and I thought we needed stops to win the game."
"If that's our best effort, then we're in trouble. We've played a lot better than this down the stretch. We didn't play very well tonight. Who knows if we were tight or rushed our shots. We didn't get good looks at the basket. Notre Dame is known for their offense, not their defense. I thought we rushed."
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