The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-1) were hoping to repeat their 2010 championship in the early season Advocare Invitational tournament in Orlando. Those hopes were dashed in the opening round after the Monmouth Hawks scored a major two-point upset over the Irish.
Everything was on track for Notre Dame in the first half, as they opened up a nice eight-point halftime lead behind some great shooting and annoying defense for the half's final ten minutes or so. They looked like they were well on their way behind double-digit scoring efforts from V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia.
But in the second half, the wheels came off in a hurry. Monmouth jumped on the Irish with a 12-2 run to start the half and tie the game at 39. The offense went cold, scoring just once in the opening five minutes of the half, while Hawks guard Justin Robinson began to get inside the lane and show what's made him such a prolific scorer so far this season.
By the under-8 timeout, the Irish had found themselves down by 11, looking completely lost on both ends of the floor. Notre Dame then mounted a furious comeback, scoring in their next 7 possessions to bring the deficit back down to one, largely behind the efforts of Demetrius Jackson.
With just under a minute to go and a chance to take the lead, Notre Dame shot itself in the foot, as Zach Auguste pulled down an offensive rebound but turned the ball over after trying to drive in for the go-ahead basket. That was a tough giveaway and huge missed opportunity that could've seen the Irish take their first lead since 39-37.
Still, after two made Hawks free throws, Demetrius Jackson came back down, willed himself into the lane and earned the foul on a tough lay-in, the type of All-American play we will probably become accustomed to with Jackson.
Finally, the game was tied. Just one defense stop away from overtime. The Irish earned that stop with a big Zach Auguste block on Robinson's fall away jumper, but Robinson earned the foul after Jackson caught him on the elbow with his follow-through. Two free throws later, the game was over.
That was a tough way to finish for Notre Dame, especially Jackson, who led the way with 20 points and willed the Irish back into this one when all hope seemed lost. All the starters joined him in double figures, including Auguste and Bonzie Colson, each of whom had a double-double on the night.
Monmouth was led by Justin Robinson, who scored 22, including virtually everything down the stretch for the Hawks and largely from the free throw line, where he was 14 of 15. Micah Seaborn added 15 of his own.
Headed to the loser's bracket, the Irish take on Iowa on Friday night at 7pm (on ESPN3) with a chance to salvage something from this tournament for their non-conference resume.
Other Thoughts and Observations
- Notre Dame was 8 of 17 from the free throw line. That was it. A mediocre day from the stripe, and we are talking about an underwhelming win instead of a terrible, terrible loss.
- The Irish also made just 1 three in the second half. They couldn't get anything going offensively for awhile there, and rather than find open looks from three, I would've rather seen them turn to some more pick and roll with their obvious interior advantage with Auguste and Colson.
- Justin Robinson shooting 15 free throws was laughable. The guy just needed to get inside the three point line, and the refs were ready with the whistle. Sometimes it pays to be undersized.
- It would be nice to have a real bench option or two to help stop the bleeding, but the Irish have none right now. There is virtually no movement from Matt Farrell and Matt Ryan when they are out there. Farrell played 21 minutes and shot just once. If he is going to be such a non-threat offensively, he can't play that much. I'm not sure what the bench answer is, but Mike Brey does not have it right now and that needs to change really quickly.
- In general, Brey's got some work to do. This offense has not evolved like it needs to with the different personnel. It's not that hard to be a pick and roll heavy team with two bigs (watch the NBA on any given night for proof), but yet it seems like all that motion towards the basket that was so great to watch last year has been halted this season.
- He also doesn't have much time to correct things. The next few games are Iowa, hopefully Wichita State, at Illinois, Stony Brook, Loyola-Chicago, and Indiana. That's as tough a six-game non-conference stretch as I think I've ever seen the Irish play (all are 120th or better in KenPom), and they can't afford a 3-3 run, otherwise this team might be more of a bubble team than any of us want to admit.