NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame’s 29-game home winning streak came to an end today as the defending champion Connecticut Huskies downed the Irish 67-53 at the Joyce Center. The Irish shooting was as cold as the temperature outside in South Bend as Notre Dame shot just 32.3-percent from the field.
Connecticut jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead before the Irish got on the board. Sophomore point guard Eric Atkins started to heat up for the Irish as his triple gave Notre Dame its first lead at 5-4. Shooting guard Jerian Grant sandwiched a pair of triples around back-to-back runners by Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier as the Irish hung with the Huskies early.
Atkins followed with a triple off the dribble from the top of the key to tie the game at 14-14. He answered that with a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Irish back on top 17-16. Notre Dame would use Atkins' hot scoring to go on a 9-2 run to give the Irish their biggest lead of the game at 23-18.
Connecticut answered back with a 6-0 run of its own to regain the lead at 24-23 but Atkins finished the first half off with a lay-in to give the Irish a 25-24 lead at the half.
Atkins carried the Irish in the first half by scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc. As a team the Irish shot just 31.0-percent in the first half but were aided by Connecticut’s equally poor shooting from the field (37.9-percent).
Connecticut used a 5-2 run to take back the lead out of the break.
Alex Oriakhi started the scoring in both periods and had a strong performance for the Huskies. The junior came into the game averaging just 6.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game but managed to score 12 points and seven rebounds as he helped Connecticut overcome a poor-shooting game from standout sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb finished the game with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Atkins answered the early Connecticut run with a runner from the right baseline to tie the game at 29-29. Connecticut answered with a 10-2 run to push the lead to 39-31.
Notre Dame battled back behind three strong plays from Pat Connaughton.
The freshman got the run started with a strong two-hand jam off a smooth backdoor pass from Grant. Two possessions later Connaughton made a strong drive to the lane that drew three Husky defenders. He missed the reverse lay-in but the collapsed defense freed up Jack Cooley for a put back and a foul.
Cooley made the free throw to pull the Irish within six at 42-36. On Connecticut’s next possession Napier missed a three-pointer that Connaughton rebounded and quickly hit Grant on an outlet to get the Irish running. Grant pushed the ball up the court on a 2-on-1 fast break and found Atkins for a lay-up to cut Connecticut’s deficit to four.
Freshman center Andre Drummond and sophomore forward Niels Giffey scored four points apiece as Connecticut answered the Irish run with a run of its own.
Notre Dame would go 5:05 without a point as the Huskies began to pull away. Junior forward Tom Knight put back an Atkins miss to end the Notre Dame dry spell but it was too little too late.
By that time Connecticut had pushed the lead to 51-38.
The Irish were just as cold in the second half as they were in the first half as they shot just 33.3-percent in the second stanza. Notre Dame was especially bad behind the three-point line. After shooting 5-for-11 from behind the arc during the first half Notre Dame hit just one of its 15 three-point attempts during the second half.
Connecticut caught fire in the second half behind strong post play from Drummond, Oriakhi, and Roscoe Smith. The Huskies shot 56.0-percent from the field during their second half run as they pulled away from the irish.
The Huskies got 21 points from its bench while Notre Dame got just six points from its bench. That combined with Notre Dame’s cold-shooting to doom the Irish and ended their impressive home win streak.
Atkins led the Irish with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He added three rebounds and two assistants. Senior Scott Martin struggled from behind the arc, going just 0-for-5, but he attacked the rim well and finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds. Grant struggled from the field in scoring just six points, his second lowest output of the season.
Napier led the Huskies with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Lamb struggled from the field but found other ways to contribute as he led the game with seven assists.
Drummond was strong in the post during the second half. He scored eight points and grabbed nine boards in the second half alone. He finished the game with 10 points and 13 rebounds in front of a row full of NBA scouts. Smith added 10 points and six rebounds.
With the win the Huskies move to 14-3 and 4-2 in the Big East. Their next game is Wednesday in Storrs against Cincinnati.
Notre Dame falls to 11-7 on the season and 3-2 in the Big East. Notre Dame travels to Rutgers for a conference game on Monday before returning home on Jan. 21 to take on No. 1 Syracuse.