Notre Dame has been a bit of a disappointment so far this season, but tonight they had a chance to make a big statement if they could pull off the upset against No. 3 Ohio State. Thanks to a strong opening, 19 minutes of the second half it looked like they’d be knocking the Buckeyes from the ranks of the unbeaten, but an epic collapse down the stretch allowed Aaron Craft and OSU to escape with the 64-61 win.
The Irish led 58-50 with just 58 seconds left, but turned the ball over on three-straight possessions to let the Buckeyes pull within two. After pushing the lead back to four, Pat Connaughton committed the ultimate late game sin when he fouled Lenzelle Smith on a three, and Smith knocked down all three free throws to pull OSU to within one. A missed free throw for the Irish was followed by an Ohio State basket with 16 seconds left, and Jerian Grant‘s turnover on the ensuing possession pretty much sealed the deal.
Notre Dame fans might complain about some of the things Craft and the Buckeyes are able to get away with when it comes to their aggressive defense, but that doesn’t excuse how poorly the Irish executed down the stretch. They also could not connect at the free throw line despite entering the game as one of the top foul shooting teams in the ACC, hitting a woeful 11-of-19 from the line.
Another area where the Irish completely came up short was in getting any sort of bench production, with the starters scoring 63 of the team’s 64 points. Considering three of the top players for Notre Dame were facing foul trouble, and in fact Eric Atkins fouled out, that’s just unacceptable against a team as good as Ohio State.
But the thing that will really haunt the Irish and their fans are the late turnovers. Between Atkins and Grant, Notre Dame has a pair of experienced and usually steady ball handlers, but they couldn’t hold onto the ball when they needed to most of all. They only committed 13 turnovers in the entire game, which just illustrates how inept they were down the stretch given the fact that about a third of those came in the final 58 seconds.