|Indiana's Cody Zeller, left, goes up for a shot against Notre Dame's Jack Cooley and Scott Martin (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)|
Irish struggle in 69-58 loss to No. 18 Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS—Notre Dame started fast and finished with a whimper Saturday.
The Fighting Irish couldn't even explain what went wrong.
After making three 3-pointers and scoring 15 points in the first 6 minutes against No. 18 Indiana, Notre Dame went more than 16 minutes without a basket, gave up its lead and wound up losing 69-58 in the inaugural Crossroads Classic.
It was a dismal day for the only Division I team to boast six different 20-point scorers this season.
"There was a little bit of a lull in the second part of the first half and just, we can't let that happen," Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley said.
The Irish (7-5) never really pulled out of it. Eric Atkins led the Irish with 15 points, and Jeran Grant had 14. Cooley added 12 points before fouling out late.
Coach Mike Brey wanted his defenders to focus on taking away Indiana's quick, high-percentage shooting guards and instead got run over by Cody Zeller, who finished with 21 points and eight rebounds against his older brother's alma mater.
But it was the offense that really struggled.
After making a 3 with 14:47 left in the first half, Notre Dame didn't hit another until 1:39 remained in the game. And after Eric Atkins stole the ball from Jordan Hulls and drove in for a breakaway layup, Notre Dame didn't have another basket until Cooley finally ended the drought with 1:33 to go -- a span that lasted just over 16 minutes.
"I thought we got off to a good start. I was hoping we could ride that a little bit more offensively," Brey said. "Certainly, Indiana defending us caused us problems offensively."
Nobody gave Notre Dame more trouble than Zeller, who was 8 of 14 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free-throw line with two assists, two blocks and one steal.
Eventually, Zeller's teammates got in sync, too. Victor Oladipo finished with 16 points, going 6 of 7 from the field. Hulls wound up with 12 points and ran his streak of consecutive free throws made to 54. Christian Watford, who made the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Kentucky, finished with 10 points after missing his first five shots Saturday.
Indiana is now 10-0 for the first time since 1989-90. The Hoosiers also protected their first Top 25 ranking in more than three years and are poised to make the 500th all-time appearance in this week's Associated Press poll. Only six schools have been ranked more frequently.
"We've got to play through Cody all the time because he does so many different things," Indiana guard Jordan Hulls said. "You can throw it in, he can score, he can pass, we've just got to cut off him, find open spots and he's unselfish, so he'll find the open man. It's very, very crucial that we do that every game and it shows. He'll do whatever he needs to do to win."
On another day, the field-goal drought might have been enough to put away Notre Dame.
But with the Hoosiers playing as if they had spent the past week focused on final exams instead of basketball, they struggled early.
Indiana fell behind when Alex Dragicevich opened the game with those three 3-pointers in the first 5:13. When Grant and Cooley combined to make four straight free throws, Notre Dame led 15-6. But after Grant stole the ball from Hulls and drove in for a layup before the free throws, the Hoosiers were nearly perfect on defense.
Notre Dame missed its last four 3-point attempts of the half and scored its only 2-pointer on the Grant layup.
"Very, very good win for us," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "We hadn't experienced getting a win like this this season and one, probably again, in the past that we probably wouldn't have been able to get because it was a very, very physical game."
Indiana didn't stop there.
Cooley finally ended the drought 1:33 into the second half, posting up for a layup and drawing a foul before missing the free throw. It was that kind of day for the Irish.
The Hoosiers extended the lead to 37-25 on Hulls' 3-pointer with 14:07 to go, and Notre Dame trimmed the lead to 39-33 just 2 minutes later.
Indiana responded again with its inside-outside combination and methodically pulled away at Conseco Fieldhouse, it's home away from home.
"I try to take what they're giving me, but you've just got to try and stay active and they did a nice job of getting me the ball," Zeller said. "It was a good overall game for us."