Down eight and playing defense with 58 seconds to go, the Buckeyes finished Saturday night’s game at Madison Square Garden in New York with a 14-3 run to stun the Fighting Irish 64-61 and stay undefeated on the college basketball season at 12-0.
Notre Dame (8-4) was on the verge of a signature win over one of the top teams in the Big 10. It would have been a win sparked by its much-maligned defense, which held Ohio State to a mere 17 points for the first 19 minutes of the second half. This comes after giving up 98 points in a loss earlier this season to the Iowa Hawkeyes, who were picked to finish behind Ohio State in the Big 10.
But in the final minute, Notre Dame showed a lack of poise unexpected from a team with several seniors. The Fighting Irish failed twice consecutively to hold the ball against Ohio State’s full-court press, giving up two buckets to make it 58-54. The second bucket in the sequence was scored by Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith — his first basket of the game.
The hoop marked the first two of nine points by Smith in the final minute, including three free throws with 32 seconds left that cut the Notre Dame lead to 60-59. Smith was inexplicably fouled on the arm by Notre Dame junior guard Pat Connaughton. Given that most juniors and seniors have heard from their coaches for 2-4 years that the one thing you can’t do in a late-game situation is foul a 3-point shooter, Connaughton’s reach-in that connected with Smith’s arm really was an unfathomable foul.
Once Smith put in a layup with 16 seconds left to give Ohio State a 61-60 lead, you could pretty much tell Notre Dame was done. Shell-shocked and looking like a team that had never been in a close game before, the Fighting Irish fumbled and bumbled down the stretch and threw away a golden opportunity for a win that would have left a major impression on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in March.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is now left to wonder how his team is going to respond to the night-in, night-out pressure of the ACC. The Fighting Irish open their ACC schedule against the Duke Blue Devils in South Bend, Ind.
For the Fighting Irish to have success this season against Duke or any other of the ACC’s top teams, performances like the one Notre Dame turned in for the final minute on Saturday night will not only have to be forgotten, but they can never been seen again.