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An unhappy ending for ND

Irish squander 12-point lead to Xavier.

Notre Dame's Eric Atkins reacts late in the second half of a South Regional NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game against Xavier in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2012. Xavier won 67-63. (AP Photo)
By TOM NOIE
Irish Sports Report
6:59 am, March 16, 2012

GREENSBORO, N.C. — It had been the type of game that the Notre Dame
men's basketball team had won all season just to have a chance to make
it back to the NCAA Tournament a third consecutive year.

With the chance to do it again Friday in a second-round South Region
game against No. 10-seeded Xavier and maybe take their ride a little
further down the NCAA highway, No. 7 seed Notre Dame gave it away.

Unable to make the winning plays down the stretch, and unable to hold
a 12-point second-half lead, the Irish crumbled in a 67-63 loss at
Greensboro Coliseum.

“I think we had plays where we weren't ourselves, me especially,” said
sophomore guard Eric Atkins. “I had two really big turnovers that, in
my eyes, lost the game.”

Notre Dame's season ended at 12:22 a.m., Saturday. The Irish finish 22-12.

A game that was seemingly there for the taking was taken over by Irish
sophomore guard Jerian Grant. Playing in his first career tournament
game, Grant hit three big 3s in the second half to keep the Irish
believing. His final 3 was one of the biggest shots of the season.

With the shot clock draining under 10 seconds, Grant faked a drive,
and then jump-stopped behind the 3-point line and let fly with the
game tied. His 3 fell with exactly 60 seconds remaining, and it gave
the Irish a 63-60 lead.

Mark Lyons made it 63-62 with 42 seconds to play before a critical
Atkins turnover — he sailed a pass into the crowd trying to get the
ball to Pat Connaughton — gave Xavier the ball with 32.3 seconds to
play.

Tu Holloway then hit a floater over the out-stretched arms of Jack
Cooley to give Xavier a 64-63 lead with 21.4 seconds left.

Notre Dame used a timeout — its last — to design one final play with
12.4 seconds remaining. Grant took the inbounds pass from Scott
Martin, had an open look at the rim and let fly from 3 after
hesitating for a split second. This time, it bounced off with 8.1
seconds remaining.

“I decided to take my open look,” Grant said. “Usually, it's a shot
that goes down.”

Dezmine Wells grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit the first of two
free throws before Cooley rebounded and got it to Atkins.

He rushed it up the floor and fell hard — after a foul with 2.8
seconds left. Atkins hit the first free throw to make it a one-point
game, but Grant was called for a lane violation — a turnover — to give
the ball back to Xavier.

Game, effectively over. Season effectively finished.

“They said I went early,” said Grant, who was positioned out beyond
the 3-point line. “It's something I've probably done every game this
year.

“It hurt. I kind of felt like they took it away from us.”

Grant was whistled for the violation by Michael Stuart, who works Big
East games.

“We missed some free throws, turned it over a little bit,” said Irish
coach Mike Brey. “But to win in this thing, or to win anywhere, you've
got to be a little more attention to detail to get out of there
against a good team.”

Notre Dame twice trailed by seven points the first 6:54 of a game
Xavier owned early. The Irish then led by as many as five and were up
33-31 at intermission.

The 33 points were the most Notre Dame scored in a first half away
from home since getting 37 the first time away in the opening 20
minutes against Missouri.

Xavier tied it at 33 to start the second 20 minutes before seven
unanswered points from the Irish, including five from Connaughton,
allowed Notre Dame to open a seven-point lead with 17:14 remaining.
The advantage jumped to eight (41-33) with an Atkins free throw with
15:37 left.

The Irish led by eight three times the first 6:59 of the second half.
An Atkins corner 3 gave Notre Dame its first double-digit lead (48-38)
with 12:19 to play.

By the time the under-12 minute media timeout arrived, the Irish were
up seven, 48-41, and playing with the poise and patience of a team
wanting to advance.

But then it was time for Xavier to make a run. It was a Lyons 3 that
cut the Irish lead to seven. The Musketeers got it to six on an Andre
Walker free throw, and then crept within three on a Holloway 3 with
9:43 left.

Two Walker free throws made it a one-point game — 48-47 — with 8:41
left before a Grant 3 stopped the bleeding and made it 51-47. It was
Notre Dame's first basket in 4:01.

“It was a game of runs,” said Irish senior tri-captain Scott Martin.

Having looked so smooth only minutes earlier, the Irish were out of
sorts on offense. They tried to bleed the shot clock down under 10
seconds possession after possession but seemed to panic to get a good
shot. Turnovers reigned.

Xavier capitalized. A Holloway baseline jumper tied it at 51 with
7:09. It was a one-possession game where neither team led by more than
three points 16 times in the final 9:43.

What many considered the Duke Invitational was turned upside down in
the first game of the Friday evening session at Greensboro Coliseum.
C.J. McCollum scored a game-high 30 points and No. 15 seed Lehigh
stunned No. 2 seed Duke, 75-70.

Former Irish guard Antoni Wyche is an assistant coach at Lehigh.

Lehigh meets Xavier on Sunday. The game will tip at approximately 7:45
p.m. on truTV, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.

XAVIER (67): Dezmine Wells 3-6 7-11 14, Andrew Walker 1-1 6-10
8, Kenny Frease 4-8 2-2 10, Mark Lyons 3-9 0-0 8, Tu Holloway 10-15
3-4 25, Dee Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Travis Taylor 0-0 0-0 0, Brad Redford 0-0
0-0 0, Jeff Robinson 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 22-44 18-27 67.

NOTRE DAME (63): Pat Connaughton 4-7 0-0 10, Jack Cooley 8-8
2-6 18, Eric Atkins 2-7 1-2 7, Scott Martin 4-9 1-1 11, Jerian Grant
4-13 0-0 11, Alex Dragicevich 1-3 0-0 2, Tom Knight 2-2 0-0 4, Joey
Brooks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-49 4-9 63.

Halftime — Notre Dame 33-31. 3-Point Goals — Xavier 5-10 (Holloway
2-4, Lyons 2-4, Wells 1-2), Notre Dame 9-21 (Grant 3-6, Atkins 2-4,
Connaughton 2-4, Martin 2-5, Dragicevich 0-2). Fouled Out — Martin.
Rebounds — Xavier 30 (Wells 11), Notre Dame 21 (Cooley, Martin 7).
Assists — Xavier 11 (Lyons 6), Notre Dame 19 (Grant 7). Total Fouls —
Xavier 14, Notre Dame 16. A — 16,523.




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