Notre Dame stumbles vs. St. John’s, opens up Big East a bit

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NEW YORK– St. John’s is one of those sneaky teams that can pop up on a contender’s schedule down the stretch. Playing with a six-man rotation, the historically young Red Storm have had a trial by fire in 2011-12 and a spoiler has emerged.

No. 20 Notre Dame found that out on Saturday afternoon.

Freshmen Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison combined to score 37 of St. John’s 61 points and helped to stave off a late Notre Dame run to sink the Irish, 61-58, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I thought their defense really bothered us and sped us up,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “We had some great looks and didn’t make enough of them. You’re going to have to make some more jumpshots in the top of that zone to escape here today.”

That St. John’s zone kept Notre Dame on the perimeter and forced the Irish into 31 shots from the beyond the arc, of which they only converted four, giving them a dismal 12% clip on the afternoon.

Guard Jerian Grant, who had been averaging 13 points per game and was a 37% shooter from three on the year, was held to 1-of-9 from the floor and 0-of-5 from distance.

Even while forcing 16 St. John’s turnovers and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds, the shooting woes were too difficult to overcome.

“It was a big problem for us,” said senior Scott Martin, who was a bright spot for Notre Dame, finishing with 14 points. “[St. John’s] frustrated us and made us take [shots] from a little deeper than we wanted to take them.”

“We were digging out of a hole on the road and we’ve done that a couple times,” Brey explained. “I almost felt like the Law of Averages said, ‘You can’t have this one.’”

The loss snapped Notre Dame’s nine-game winning streak and made some shifts in the race for the top of the Big East.

Syracuse now clinches the Big East regular season title. It also keeps Marquette in good position for a Top 4 finish in the conference, which would mean a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

Perhaps that’s something for Buzz Williams to dance about.

Loss aside, Notre Dame’s improbable season, especially considering the loss of star Tim Abromaitis early in the year, continues on.

“I wanted to see if I could red-shirt that year,” Brey jokingly recalled about his feeling after receiving the news of Abromaitis’ injury.

“When that went down, it affected Scott for a good six weeks, but it was a great atmosphere to coach in because there was no attention. [Critics said] we were done, wait until next year.”

Brey says that the time spent out of the media spotlight helped his team to come together after the loss of their Preseason All-Big East First Team selection.

He credits his young players, including point guard Eric Atkins, for stepping up in Abromaitis’ absence.

“We know our program has played through adversity before,” said forward Jack Cooley, whose emergence has been key to the Irish’s success. “Coach knows how to coach us when we’re a man down and we know how to play like that.”

The Irish move on to play Georgetown on Monday night, which will have important implications in seeding for the Big East Tournament.

The Hoyas, who got a convincing win at home over Villanova on Saturday, could tie Notre Dame in the conference with another win on Monday night.

If the Irish want to fend off the Hoya advance, they’ll need to shoot a better percentage than they did on Saturday afternoon.

“We had a good look to get to overtime, but we didn’t deserve it,” Brey said in closing about the loss to St. John’s. “They deserved it.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.