The Fighting Irish were handed their first loss of the season at the hands of LaDontae Henton and the Providence Friars, falling 75-74 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. The Irish had two chances to win in the final fifteen seconds, but a Jerian Grant layup didn't connect and a Pat Connaughton jumper fell short as the Friars moved to 5-0.
Henton was white-hot the entire game, scoring 38 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including a go-ahead three and then two go-ahead free throws in the final minute. Grant almost equaled him, scoring the last eight points of the game for Notre Dame on his way to a 20-point, 6-assist outing. The venue was neutral in name only as the Friar fans were out in force and quite vocal at times during a really entertaining clash of former Big East foes.
Mike Brey had used all of his team's timeouts when the Irish got the ball out of bounds under their own bucket with five seconds left, including the final one only nine seconds earlier. He also has already started to confirm my greatest fears, shortening the rotation to basically just the five starters and a few minutes here and there from V.J. Beachem. He tried to get Austin Burgett some burn, but the junior forward committed a flurry of fouls and was out with over ten minutes left in the game. Freshman big Martin Geben had a brief stint in the first half but didn't make much of an impact (two boards, a turnover, a foul) and wasn't back on the floor for the final twenty minutes.
The Irish blew an eight-point lead with a little over five minutes remaining, turning the ball over against the Friar pressure and failing to find an answer for Henton (who was likely an unsolvable case on Sunday afternoon). There were a few nearly perfect offensive possessions that earned San Antonio Spurs comparisons from Doris Burke, but the last five minutes resulted in a lot of Grant isos.
All the starters were in double figures, with Steve Vasturia knocking in four threes, a great sign considering the sophomore guard is going to find himself open on the perimeter a lot as defenses continue to focus on Grant and Demetrius Jackson. Jackson simply needs more shots, as he's creative and a fantastic finisher. He had 11 on 5-of-9 shooting, but had perhaps the highlight of the game with a ridiculous two-handed dunk. Enjoy:
Zach Auguste finished up with two rebounds, but he was an active defender, notching three steals and clogging the lane for the Friars. I don't think we should be starting many sets with Auguste in the post, as his footwork resembles that of a drunken Hakeem Olajuwon. He continues to be adept at finishing at the rim following penetration, so he'll be in double figures as long as Grant and Jackson are on the floor finding him for flushes.
Providence was very game and Henton was unstoppable, but man, this is a disappointing loss. There was a chance for a nice non-conference win (and there aren't many more of those thanks to an awful schedule) and between the blown lead, timeout mismanagement and shortened bench, it leaves a very bitter taste. Defensive intensity can't stay turned up unless guys are getting rests, and it seems like we're already reverting to a lack of breaks for the starters. Let Beachem get some more run and maybe see what you have with Bonzie Colson, because there needs to be a second big body and if Burgett can't stay on the floor with fouls, it's going to have to be Geben or Colson.
The Irish play a couple of tomato cans before hosting Michigan State on Wednesday, December 3. A few bullet points:
- Again, this dunk:
More shots for Jackson, please.
- When Doris Burke isn't busy doing promotional work for the Connecticut women's basketball team, she is a joy on commentary. Very smart, loves the game and as it turns out, was a big Notre Dame football fan while growing up. She was also calling a game involving her alma mater and was about as fair as you could hope, including acknowledging how weird the Friar mascot was.
- Pat Connaughton was your leading rebounder for the Irish with nine, while no one else had more than two. The gang approach worked, with Notre Dame winning the battle of the boards 29-23.
- Seriously, the second big man issue needs to be resolved, as there will be a game where Auguste gets into early foul trouble and there needs to be a reliable option to fill in. Whether it's Burgett with a new approach where he doesn't foul every possession, Geben with more minutes or the under-sized Colson getting a try-out in a real game, Brey needs to see what he has before we hit conference play.
- Providence is going to have a great chance at repeating as Big East Tournament champs. Henton is a beast, fellow forward Tyler Harris (17 points on the day, little brother of Magic forward Tobias Harris since birth) showed some great flashes and guard Kris Dunn is a playmaker if he can stay healthy (and out of foul trouble, which plagued him against Notre Dame).
- V.J. Beachem scored an own basket in the first half. It was very weird. Beachem had his worst game of the season, which may have been tied to the fact he only got eight minutes, a season low.
- Grant is going to challenge for the ACC Player of the Year award and has a great chance at going in the first round of the NBA draft. The 2013-14 season completely falling apart after his suspension makes way more sense.