Notre Dame and Xavier battled each other for a full 20 minutes in one of many outstanding finishes on what was a wild day of college basketball. Despite controlling much of the second half, the Irish dropped its NCAA second round game 67-63 to the Musketeers.
The Irish and Musketeers battled back and forth all game long, but in the end the Irish committed some costly turnovers and Xavier guard Tu Holloway put the game away late.
Xavier jumped out to a quick lead as the Irish struggled from the floor and uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times during the early going. Guard Mark Lyons picked off a Scott Martin pass and dished the ball to freshman Dezmine Wells to put the Musketeers up 7-0.
Martin and Eric Atkins answered with back-to-back triples as the Irish picked up their first lead of the game at 9-8. That is pretty much how the entire game went as both teams continued to battle back-and-forth.
Irish junior Jack Cooley carried Notre Dame early, scoring nine points during the game’s first half. Notre Dame’s interior players were strong early on and forward Tom Knight even chipped in with four first half points as the Irish took a 33-31 lead into the break.
Cooley got Notre Dame started off in the second half as well, answering Holloway’s half-opening bucket with a layup of his own. Freshman forward Pat Connaughton scored five straight points as the Irish began to take over. Cooley scored six points during the run and Atkins hit a triple to give the Irish a 48-38 lead with 12:22 left in the game.
Notre Dame’s lead quickly evaporated as the Xavier backcourt began to take over. Lyons answered Atkins’ three-pointer with a triple of his own. Notre Dame missed its next two shots from behind the arc and Holloway knocked down his second three-pointer of the game.
Lyons stole the ball from Connaughton on Notre Dame’s next possession and Xavier forward Andre Walker hit two free throws to bring the Musketeers within one point at 48-47. Grant answered with a deep triple but Xavier continued to attack the Irish defense. Jeff Robinson pulled down an offensive board and threw down a powerful dunk to bring Xavier back within two points. After an official timeout Holloway hit a jumper to tie the game for the first time since the 19:49 mark of the second half.
Notre Dame tried to pull away as Martin and Grant had back-to-back three point plays, Martin’s the old fashioned way and Grant’s on a deep shot from behind the arc. Holloway answered both scoring plays with four points of his own. After an Atkins turnover Holloway attacked the Irish rim and gave Xavier its first lead of the second half.
Cooley answered back with a strong offensive rebound and a quick put back and Grant followed him up with another big three pointer as the Irish climbed back on top. Once again the Xavier guards answered back as Lyons and Holloway sandwiched buckets around another Atkins turnover as Xavier went back on top 64-63.
This time Notre Dame would not have an answer as Grant missed a three-pointer that allowed Wells to hit a free throw that gave Xavier a 65-63 lead with just eight seconds left in the game. Wells missed his second free throw and Atkins immediately pushed the ball down court and was fouled with just two seconds left on the clock. Atkins calmly drilled the first free throw but Grant was called for a lane violation, negating the free throw and giving Xavier the basketball. Connaughton was then called for a flagrant foul and Wells iced the game from the free throw line.
Holloway led the Musketeers with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He led a Xavier offense that finished the night shooting 50.0-percent from the floor and from behind the arc. Wells was outstanding on both ends of the court, finishing the night with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Lyons scored just eight points but his buckets came at crucial moments in the Xavier win.
Cooley led the Irish with 18 points and eight rebounds. He was perfect from the floor but missed four of his six free throws. Notre Dame was just 4-of-9 at the free throw line while Xavier knocked down 18-of-27 from the stripe. That gap proved to be too much for Notre Dame to overcome.
Grant and Martin scored 11 points apiece and Connaughton added 10 more. Grant led the Irish with nine assists.
Notre Dame finishes the season with a 22-12 record after the tough loss. Notre Dame’s season ended on a down note as the Irish dropped their final two games of the season. Despite the rough ending to the season Notre Dame’s 22-12 record was drastically better than most projected prior to the season.
Xavier advances to take on 15-seed Lehigh, a team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history by knocking off Duke in the early game.