Jerian Grant’s bid to become the lone Notre Dame player to reach double digits fittingly was swatted a few rows back by Georgetown’s Henry Sims.
The sequence with 4:45 left in regulation encapsulated the night for No. 20 Notre Dame as No. 11 Georgetown eased to a 59-41 Big East victory at Verizon Center on Monday. Any hints of the Fighting Irish team that rattled off nine victories in a row earlier this season — a streak that began with a nine-point win over then-No. 1 Syracuse on Jan. 21 (still the Orange’s only loss) — certainly didn’t make it inside the Beltway.
“We were playing well and maybe we did get a little complacent,” Grant told FOXSports.com. “Things didn’t come easy. At the same time, you lose to a bottom-(tier) team in the Big East and to get this knockout blow should wake a few guys up.”
Grant was referring to Saturday’s loss at St. John’s, which ended the Fighting Irish’s longest win streak since they joined the Big East in 1995. Monday’s loss set or equaled a couple of more dubious benchmarks as Notre Dame scored its fewest-ever points in Big East play and tied for the lowest offensive output under coach Mike Brey.
Brey did his best to spin the loss positively, both in the locker room to his players and afterward to reporters.
“I think it’s great,” Brey said. “I think it comes at a good time. It’s a nice wake-up (call) after an unbelievable run for us. We may be a little human.”
The Fighting Irish were definitely mortals from the outset as they went 8-of-23 (34.8 percent) from the field in the first half. Brey said Notre Dame was fortunate to be down 28-18 at the break.
“Even though we were down by 10 at halftime, we were hanging on for dear life,” Brey said. “Eventually we were going to have to play faster and try to score quickly. We had some transition opportunities (and) we had some good looks.”
Guard Scott Martin got the Fighting Irish to within seven points 1:17 into the second half with one of his team’s three successful 3-point shots on 17 attempts. Less than two minutes later, the Hoyas went up by double digits for good and had that margin up to 21 points with six minutes remaining on a layup by Greg Whittington, who finished with a game-high 15 points.
The Hoyas led by as many as 23 points.
“You look at the numbers, we haven’t shot the ball well the last two games,” Martin said. “When you don’t shoot the ball well, you’re already behind. Everybody seemed to struggle at the exact same time. That’s kind of the way this team is. We just have to get back into it and make some shots.”
Despite the two defeats, this Notre Dame team has proven resilient. It lost forward Tim Abromaitis to a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a practice on Nov. 25. The fifth-year senior had averaged 14 points and seven rebounds in the two games he played in before the injury.
“It’s been hard because you want to be out there, but at the same time it’s been great to see them turn it around,” Abromaitis said. “We’ve had some setbacks in the last couple of games, but I think we have the mental makeup to come back around again.”
Brey said the roadmap may include a day off Tuesday for some players, including forward Jack Cooley. Cooley, who along with guard Eric Atkins and Grant averages more than a dozen points per game, finished with two points. Rest also could be in store for Martin, who walked out of the locker room with one of his legs wrapped up with ice.
Then comes the preparation for Friday’s regular-season finale at home against Providence. A victory over Providence (14-15, 3-13 Big East) — second-to-last in the conference — would secure Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) a bye for the first two rounds of the conference tournament next week at Madison Square Garden. Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) also would assure itself a double bye that comes with a top-four finish in the standings with a victory in its finale at No. 8 Marquette on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish have lost back-to-back games three previous times this season, and the skid never reached a third game. The last consecutive loss preceded the Fighting Irish’s long streak.
“Hopefully, we can win nine straight again,” Martin smirked. “That would put us at least in the Final Four, right?”