Flailing Irish: Notre Dame sloppy, overmatched in 76-58 loss to Iowa State in NCAA tournament
DAYTON, Ohio – Notre Dame's days in the Big East are over. It's troubles in the NCAA tournament linger.
For the third time in four years, the Fighting Irish were bounced in the first round, upended Friday night 76-58 by an impressive Iowa State team that beat Notre Dame on the inside, from the outside and every way possible.
Next year, Notre Dame begins anew as a member of the reconfigured Atlantic Coast Conference. But although they'll be in a different league, the Fighting Irish will carry a label as a team unable to advance in March.
"I really would think it's the next step for our program," said ND coach Mike Brey, who had the Irish in the NCAA field for the fourth straight year and ninth time in 13 seasons. "We've been so consistent in the regular season, and we haven't been able to do much here. That's what keeps me up at night and keeps me trying to figure out how we can be better at it.
"That's the unfinished business. This is a hump we can't get over yet, but we'll keep trying to figure it out."
Iowa State freshman forward Georges Niang matched a season high with 19 points and Melvin Ejim added 17 for Iowa State, which showed there's a whole lot more than just 3-pointers in its arsenal.
The 10th-seeded Cyclones (23-11) will play No. 2 seed Ohio State on Sunday. The Buckeyes advanced with a 95-70 thrashing of Iona.
Iowa State led the nation in 3-pointers this season, but with Niang posting up down low with an array of moves in the lane, the Cyclones were just as effective from short range in ousting the Fighting Irish (25-10), who committed 14 of their 17 turnovers in the first half.
The Cyclones came in with a reputation for being good outside shooters, but they can play down low, too.
"They're so potent offensively," Brey said. "They keep you spread, and at times I really felt it was men playing against boys. They're really, really good. They're men."
Tom Knight and Jack Cooley scored 14 apiece to pace the Fighting Irish, who walked off the floor looking as sickly green as the trim on their uniforms.
"You know, it hurts," said guard Jerian Grant, who had a team-high five turnovers. "All season, it felt like we had a team this year that could make a deep run in March, and I really believed that. I just feel like we picked the worst day to have our worst game."
Iowa State made 12 of 14 shots to open the second half, taking any possible drama out of just the second matchup between the Midwest schools, and first since 1979.
Notre Dame must be hoping it won't see the Cyclones for another 34 years.
These guys from Ames can shoot the lights out.
The Cyclones made a school-record 325 3-pointers this season and came in averaging nearly 10 per game. They finished with nine, and it was a 3 from the wing by Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious with 11:22 left that put Iowa State ahead by 20 and essentially set up a third-round date between the States — Ohio and Iowa.
Moments later, Tyrus McGee drilled another 3-pointer to make it 66-42, sending fans scurrying toward the exits after the fourth game at sold-out Dayton Arena.
The Irish made just two field goals in the final 11:19 of the first half, but they nearly escaped to their locker room down just 10 when they inexplicably watched as Will Clyburn dribble from one end to the other and hit a layup as the horn sounded to give Iowa State a 35-23 lead.
Niang's three-point play put the Cyclones ahead 47-31 early in the second, and Iowa State couldn't miss for several minutes while pushing its lead to 27.
The Cyclones outscored the Irish 21-7 over the last 11:40 to open a lead that seemed pretty comfortable given Notre Dame's offensive struggles. The Irish, who pride themselves on taking care of the ball under Brey, had an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. That was only four short of their season high set in a five-overtime win against Louisville.
Some of that was Iowa State's defense, but a lot of it was just careless mistakes by the flailing Irish.
"I'll give 50 percent credit to their defense, and then 50 percent is we played so fast," Brey said. "We played fast in the half court. We rushed things. My guards have been so good all year with controlling tempo and making decisions, and it just wasn't a very good night for them. When our guards aren't in a good rhythm, we probably can't beat anybody.
"We never really were able to recover."