February 26, 2006

Big game goes bust

Mike Brey called Saturday the start of Notre Dame's postseason.

If that's really the case, then the Irish are already out.

Notre Dame fell 80-72 to Marquette Saturday at the Joyce Center, dropping the Irish below the Big East Tournament cutoff line with two games left in the regular season. Even with a win at Providence on March 1 followed by a home victory over DePaul three days later, the Irish (13-12, 4-10) still might not have enough for a trip to New York City.

"Obviously we need some help now," Brey said. "It's tough to say 'Play loose,' but we have a lot to lose. You're preparing for Marquette and you're intense but how do you have guys letting it fly? I thought that [pressure] affected us offensively, especially. We're better with the ball than that."

Handling it and shooting it.

Notre Dame turned it over 16 times against Marquette (19-8. 9-5), a high in Big East play this season, and the veterans guards struggled from outside. Chris Quinn and Colin Falls combined to shoot 4-of-21 with the junior held scoreless until the game's final minute when the Golden Eagles already had the game in hand.

Russell Carter, Torin Francis and Kyle McAlarney picked up some of the slack, but they couldn't overcome Notre Dame's top two scorers connecting on just three triples while committing more than twice as many turnovers (seven) as assists (three). Carter led Notre Dame with 20 points, Francis added 16 and McAlarney 14. Meanwhile, Quinn and Falls combined for just 17 points.

"Quinn and Falls deserve better because they've had a great year, I just felt for them," Brey said. "You want it so bad that you tie yourself up in knots a little bit. For us to turn it over 16 times is uncharacteristic and that hurt us."

For all the inefficiencies, Notre Dame grabbed control midway through the second half when a Quinn three-pointer staked the Irish to a 56-51 edge. But that's when Marquette's future NBA draft pick Steve Novak started playing up to his reputation, connecting on back-to-back triples during a 9-0 run that gave the Golden Eagles a lead they'd never give up.

The 6-foot-10 Novak finished with a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. One of his triples during the decisive run came with the 6-5 Falls stuck to him outside the arc, but the defense didn't make a difference.

"Sometimes I think I might shoot better with a hand in my face," said Novak, who hit the game-winning jumper to beat Notre Dame 67-65 on Jan. 20 in Milwaukee.

If Notre Dame's defensive lapses in the second half came on three-point defense, in the first the Irish flaws showed in stopping the Golden Eagles in transition. Despite making defense of Marquette's running game one of the team's top two goals, Brey couldn't get the Irish back in transition, a big part of why the Golden Eagles led 38-35 at halftime.

"I thought we were caught a little bit off guard in the first half," McAlarney said. "We should be ready for that. We don't have any excuses for that. They were running on us pretty well, scoring and we couldn't stop them."

Just before halftime Quinn took a nasty spill during a drive on Marquette guard Dominic James. Quinn anticipated contact and when none came he fell hard to the floor prompting Brey to sprint toward him. Quinn didn't even miss a full minute after a quick check-up in the locker room, and Brey hoped the near injury might relieve some of the game's pressure.

It was wishful yet understandable thinking. Nothing worked for the senior guard.

"It just happens," Quinn said. "The only thing Colin and I can do is keep working."

But will the job be good enough to get to New York?


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