It started off as a slug fest, and for the first 15 minutes the young Notre Dame squad traded blows and went toe-to-toe with one of the most talented teams in the country, the #18 Connecticut Huskies. The home team came into the matinee match up with good momentum after beating then #11 Louisville on the road and taking care of business against South Florida in consecutive games. Add to that the fact that they had not suffered a loss in Purcell Pavilion in 29 games, and one could sense that this team believed they would be able to take Jim Calhoun and his squad down.
More on the Irish's first home loss of the season after the jump.
Notre Dame came into this game as one of the best defensive teams in the Big East - at least in this early part of the season. While they have struggled shooting the ball in every league game so far, their stingy defense - both in their man to man and 2-3 zone sets - led to a surprising 3-1 record in league play. That defense was not there in the early part of the game as the Huskies opened 6/10 from the field getting baskets from wherever they wanted.
Captain Scott Martin started to turn things for the Irish on that end, getting in good position and continuing to rebound the ball at a high level. On the offensive end the Irish were powered by the early hot shooting of their starting backcourt as Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant combined for 5 three pointers in the first 11 minutes. Unfortunately, the two went on to only make 1 more the rest of the way.
Sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich who has really struggled shooting the ball the last three games continued to do so, going just 1 of 5 from the field in 17 minutes. Dragicevich showed flashes of being a primary ball handler earlier in the season, but the elite athleticism of the Big East has given the Illinois product major fits in recent match ups.
After ending the first half with a 1 point lead - 25-24 - the Irish offense looked anemic in the second half as turnovers led to a 15-6 run by the Huskies that did the home team in. Freshman big man Andre Drummond looked comfortable all game posting up 10 points and 13 rebounds and even hitting a few mid range jump shots displaying a comfort level that should give a scare to the whole conference.
Atkins did all he could to keep the Irish in the game posting up a game-high 20 points but the rest of his team combined for just 13-for-50 shooting from the field and the home team only got to the line 8 times, a facet of the game which had hitherto been a strength for Notre Dame. While the defense is now stabilized, the Irish still have much improvement to make on offense as the collective jump shooting has been sub-par and the number of trips to the line have been steadily declining. Improvement from Scott Martin and Alex Dragicevich is imperative at this point and Jerian Grant must look to penetrate before settling for 25 footers.
The Irish hopes to bounce back against Rutgers on the road Monday night. Tip off is set for 9pm.