Notre Dame v Iowa

Notre Dame chokes away eight-point lead in 58 seconds vs. No. 3 Ohio State

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There is no questioning No. 3 Ohio State’s ability on the defensive end of the floor.

Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott may be the two best on-ball defenders in the country, and Sam Thompson isn’t too far behind them. The Buckeyes have played a fairly weak schedule, but it’s not a mistake or a statistical fluke that they currently sit as the best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that, on a night where Ohio State was stymied by Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone, it was the Buckeye defense that came to the rescue.

The Irish had a 58-50 lead with 58 seconds left when Jerian Grant threw the ball away. It ended up being the first of three Notre Dame turnovers in the span of 18 seconds, two of which came against Ohio State’s stifling press and all three of which led to two points for the Buckeyes. After Demetrius Jackson gave Notre Dame a four point lead with two free throws, Pat Connaughton fouled Lenzelle Smith shooting a three. Smith hit all three free throws and followed that up with a lay-in to give OSU the lead after Steven Vasturia missed the front end of a one-and-one.

On the ensuing possession, Grant lost the ball off of his leg. After two Ohio State free throws, Grant was fouled but only hit one of the two free throws. All told, Grant had three turnovers and a missed free throw in the final minute. It was not his finest moment.

A game-tying three from Jackson bounced harmlessly off the rim, and Notre Dame left the Garden with a 64-61 loss.

And with that, Ohio State remained undefeated, although the Irish did well to expose the Buckeye’s biggest flaw. Thad Matta’s boys really struggled against Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone in the second half. They don’t have enough weapons on the offensive end of the floor. They don’t have enough creators, and when their best defensive lineup is on the court, there just isn’t enough perimeter shooting and no one to park in the middle of the zone.

Think about it like this: the Buckeyes have to have LaQuinton Ross on the court because he is their most dangerous scorer in the half court. But he’s painfully streaky and quite simply not a good on-ball defender. Notre Dame was outscoring Ohio State 32-17 at one point in the second half largely because they allowed whoever Ross was guarding to attack the rim.

There aren’t many teams that can field a lineup with four quality ball-handlers like Notre Dame can, so the Buckeyes should be able to hide Ross defensively on most night. When that’s the case, their defense is good enough to keep them in the game against anyone. But there are certain matchups — teams with four perimeter players, like Michigan, or Duke, or Wisconsin — that will give them some trouble.

As far as the Irish are concerned, this is just a crushing, devastating loss.

Teams don’t lose when they have an eight point lead with 58 seconds left on the clock. The Irish collapsed in a game that they really, really needed to win. Notre Dame has lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State at home this season, but those results would have been forgiven with a win over a top five team in the country at a neutral site.

It will be interesting to see where Notre Dame goes from here. They collapsed. They choked. There’s no other way to put it. The Irish played perfect basketball for 19 minutes in the second half before giving it all away. This is the kind of game that can destroy the confidence of a team.

Notre Dame gets Canisius next Sunday before hosting No. 8 Duke at home to kick off ACC play.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: