Notre Dame cemented its spot alongside fellow underachievers Boston College, Maryland and Virginia on Wednesday night with its second home loss of the season against an opponent outside the power conferences.
If last month's home loss to Indiana State was a mild surprise for the Irish, Wednesday's 73-69 setback against North Dakota State was more of a stunner. The senior-laden Bison may be the class of the Summit Conference this season, but they had no notable wins and they'd lost their two toughest road games by double figures at Saint Mary's and rival North Dakota.
In spite of that, Notre Dame trailed virtually the entire game and never strung together enough defensive stops to seize back control. The Irish had a chance to tie down three in the final 30 seconds, but a Jerian Grant turnover led to a Kory Brown transition dunk that extended the lead to five and all but clinched the upset.
Notre Dame's loss ensures the Irish (7-3) will enter Sunday's Crossroads Classic matchup with Indiana without having beaten a remotely good team.
The seven teams Notre Dame has defeated have a combined record of 18-44 so far this season. Iowa, Indiana State and North Dakota State – the only three decent teams Notre Dame has faced – have all beaten the Irish.
The primary culprit in the three losses is a lack of consistent frontcourt scoring and a defense that can neither defend the post nor the perimeter effectively. All three teams to beat the Irish have shot at least 48 percent from the field, with North Dakota State and Iowa both eclipsing 50 percent.
It was senior forward Marshall Bjorklund who Notre Dame had no answer for Wednesday night. The 6-foot-8 big man scored most of his game-high 26 points in the post, while guards Lawrence Alexander and Taylor Braun chipped in 16 and 13, respectively.
Pat Connaughton led Notre Dame with 21 points, but the Irish felt the absence of Cameron Biedscheid on both ends of the floor. With the highly touted 6-foot-6 sophomore redshirting, Connaughton, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins each played 39 or more minutes apiece.
Notre Dame has the talent to recover from its somewhat disappointing start, but the schedule stiffens in a hurry. With three of their next four games against Indiana, Ohio State and Duke, the Irish will have to improve in a hurry to avoid digging an early-season hole.
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