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March 23, 2013

ND can't handle ISU's five-out

DAYTON, Ohio - Notre Dame had nearly a week to learn how to handle it. But nothing could completely prepare the Irish (25-10) from exiting the NCAA tournament after one game for the third time in four seasons, this time in decisive fashion.

Iowa State's five-out offense - where every man can score from distance - was just the half of it.

"It was hard with our two big guys," said Irish head coach Mike Brey, whose NCAA tournament record dropped to 6-9 at Notre Dame with its 76-58 loss to the Cyclones (23-11), who advance to the third-round of the NCAA tournament Sunday against No. 2 seed Ohio State.

"They're slipping speed to the bucket and when we played some zone in the first half, we controlled the tempo a little bit and made our run. But we never could get back into anything offensively."

What was the source of Notre Dame's problems Friday night at Dayton Arena? It was on both ends of the floor.

Iowa State's penetration - When you think of a team that leads the nation in three-pointers attempted and made, you think of a unit that stands around the perimeter and lets it fly, and that's true. It's interesting to watch the Cyclones warm up before a game. A majority of the team sits outside the three-point line, and a handful of guys rebound and send it back outside the arc.

But what makes Iowa State's attack so effective is the ability of each of its players - including big men Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim - to put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket. If the Cyclones weren't outright beating the Irish off the dribble, they at least forced the rest of the Notre Dame defense to collapse on the ball handler, which then made it easy pickings from beyond the arc, driving the baseline or for a short shot in the paint.

 "We were really concerned about the three-point shot and they really drove us to the hoop in the first half to open up the three-point," said Irish point guard Eric Atkins. "We were so aware of the three-point line that it kind of backfired on us. They did a good job of driving against us one through five."

For the Irish to win this game, it was important that they limit Iowa State's success on its two-point shots. The Cyclones made 9-of-21 from three-point range, which is 42.9 percent. Not a great defensive effort by the Irish, but they could live with it if they made life difficult from two-point range.

But Iowa State converted 20-of-38 of its two-pointer, most of which came from point-blank range. Niang and Ejim were a combined 14-of-24 on shots inside the arc.

The three-point barrage - Notre Dame "held" Iowa State to nearly six three-point shots under its seasonal average. But that's because the Cyclones had so many inside looks that they didn't need the three that often.

After Iowa State made 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) in the first half, the three-point looks in the second half were clean, particularly for Tyrus McGee, who stayed true to his 45.7 percent shooting from three-point range. In fact, he improved his percentage by connecting on 3-of-5.

"The tempo they played at was something we're simply not used to, and they shot the crap out of the ball," said Notre Dame's Tom Knight. "That happens. They're a great team. They're the best three-point shooting team in the country. They made contested looks, they made open looks…the credit goes to them for what they did."

ND's offensive inefficiency - In order to stay in the game with a great shooting team, you have to maximize your opportunities, protect the basketball, and try to take advantage of a team's lack of size inside.

The Irish did the opposite, at least as far as maximizing opportunities and protecting the basketball. By halftime, they had 14 turnovers, which tied the mark for most turnovers in a half during the Brey era at Notre Dame.

"We had too many turnovers in the first half, and that was frustrating," Atkins said. "That kind of got us out of our rhythm."

The Irish had just seven more shots than turnovers in the first half, and the penchant for throwing the basketball away led to 13 more shots by Iowa State than the Irish.

Notre Dame actually shot better than Iowa State in the first half - 42.9 percent to 41.2 percent - but had five less field goals and three less three-pointers.

"Defensively, we were okay," Brey said. "They scorched us at times, but they're going to score on you. You've just got to do something on that offensive end to give yourself some hope.

"I thought our offensive efficiency could be better against them and it just wasn't, and that's what's really hard to swallow."

Iowa State was credited with just one blocked shot, but the Irish had numerous attempts altered along the way. Niang and Ejim came into the game having fouled out of 11 games. Between them, they had just four fouls, and although the Irish shot 76.9 percent from the line, they attempted just 13 free throws.

Jack Cooley, Knight, Garrick Sherman and Zach Auguste combined for 38 points, which was the kind of big man production that was expected. But Atkins, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Cam Biedscheid were a combined 6-of-25 from the field, including 2-of-10 by Atkins, 0-of-5 by Biedscheid, and 1-of-2 by Connaughton, who made 15 three-pointers in three games in the Big East tournament.

"I felt it more so than anybody else," said Connaughton of the pressure to succeed. "It's uncharacteristic, and it's something I need to work on."

The simulation difficulty - It was interesting to hear the head coach and the players respond in defense of Notre Dame's "blue team," which provided Iowa State's five-out look during practice. No one wanted to blame guys like Austin Burgett, Joey Brooks, Eric Katenda and Patrick Crowley for failing to give the frontline players the proper preparation.

But at the end of a very long day, nothing could simulate the speed and precision of the Iowa State attack.

"That scout team did a really good job, but these guys are really good," Brey said.

"Our blue squad did a great job of simulating it in practice," Cooley said. "I just don't think we went out and executed as well as we usually do. We let their pressure get to us and we got rattled, and teams that beat them don't get rattled by their pressure."

"We had a bit of difficulty simulating it because we haven't played against it all year," Knight said. "We can have guys on our team work as hard as they can every day in practice. But they're just not Iowa State. The scout team did great preparing it for us. We knew it would be a huge challenge and we didn't execute it."

"Our second team did a good job of simulating it; Iowa State just did a better job at it," Atkins said.

Add it all up and the Irish weren't nearly as close as the 18-point final deficit indicated. Iowa State led by 27 points in the second half on three different occasions. That was a more accurate indicator of the disparity between the two teams.

"We knew it was going to be a challenge," Knight said. "We thought we would be able to compete better than we did."

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