Saturday night might be alright, but Saturday afternoon has been anything but for Mike Brey's Irish of late.
Two weeks to the day after a no-show effort and 17-point loss at Providence, Notre Dame took one on the chin again from the outset of a Saturday afternoon tip-off, losing 72-64 at Marquette. The loss all but assured the Irish will not receive a double bye in the Big East Conference tournament, something they've enjoyed in consecutive seasons, aiding runs to the tournament's semi-finals as a result.
They shot just 38 percent. Committed timely, costly turnovers after falling behind by double digits early, and played from at least 10 points behind their hosts from 14:42 in the first half through the first 10 minutes of the second.
Multiple first-half turnovers were the result of players jumping in the air with no easy pass available. Open shots and semi-contested layups that could have stemmed the tide missed badly. Post defense was a rumor. Post position on the other end was rarely established.
Conversely, Marquette, a 28 percent three-point shooting team through 15 league games, hit its first six shots, four of its first five shots from beyond the arc, and shot better than 60 percent for the contest.
Also unstoppable was Golden Eagles senior and four-point per game season scorer Chris Otule. The senior hit all eight of his shots and helped forge a 41-27 halftime lead. Otule scored 16 points in 25 minutes to help celebrate Marquette's senior day festivities.
Forward Jamil Wilson led the charge to close out the contest, scoring 17 of his 19 in the second stanza.
Notre Dame has been outscored a combined 37-9 over the first seven minutes of its last two road games.
Always down, but not out
Notre Dame's only run came midway through the second half when a Tom Knight put-back on the break cut Marquette's lead to 10, 56-46 at the 9:32 mark. The Irish cut it to eight twice including a two-handed jam by Zach Auguste with 4:36 remaining but the Golden Eagles responded to each threat, twice with buckets and fouls for three-point plays to regain momentum.
Their last realistic chance came at the 1:54 mark when junior guard Jerian Grant was fouled on a three-point attempt, his team trailing 66-56. Grant though missed two of three, a recurring theme in a 5 for 11 effort from the stripe on the afternoon. He had hit his last 11 free throws entering the contest.
Grant led the Irish with 21 points including a leaping three-pointer that cut the lead to six, 70-64, with 32 seconds remaining but Marquette salted the game away with a pair of free throws and defense that forced multiple Irish misses thereafter.
Grant's backcourt mate Eric Atkins scored 16 while Auguste -- the only front court player to make any impact for Notre Dame, scored 15 with five boards, three steals, a pair of assists, and a blocked shot in 21 encouraging minutes.
All Big East center Jack Cooley started but was a non-factor for Notre Dame, ailing for the last 24 hours due to a viral infection. He played 11 minutes, did not score, and was obviously too weak to hold position defensively. Front court regulars Tom Knight, Garrick Sherman, and Pat Connaughton combined for just seven points (all by Knight) on a 3 of 16 shooting effort.
With the loss, Notre Dame falls to 10-6 in league play while the Golden Eagles moved to 12-4 and a guaranteed tie-breaker over the Irish with two to play.
The Irish have an outside shot at finishing among the Big East's top four but Louisville would have to lose twice, Notre Dame win twice, and Syracuse drop at least one of their remaining two to conclude the season.
The 22-7 Irish, who host St. John's in South Bend Tuesday, play at Louisville March 9 to conclude the regular season. The Cardinals (24-5) first host struggling Cincinnati Monday night.