The contest, ugly from the outset if you were a fan of the favorites, ended fittingly.
Alex Dragicevich had a decent look, but when the sophomore swingman’s potential game-tying three-point shot bounced off the front of the rim, Notre Dame’s program record nine-game conference winning streak came to an end with a familiar thud – or more accurately, “clang.”
It was the 27th missed three-point shot by the Irish in a whopping 31 attempts during the contest, a game in which they never led but had a chance to both win and tie late after overcoming a 14-point deficit.
The Irish trailed 45-31 at the 13:07 mark of the second half but chipped away, cutting the youth-filled Red Storm’s lead to nine at 10:48; to six points at 5:45; and finally drawing to within a point on two occasions including at the 0:45 mark.
With the shot-clock winding under five, St. John’s freshman guard Amir Garnett split and penetrated the extended Irish defense, and after a jump stop and significant stretch toward the hole, rolled a lefty lay-up true for a 61-58 lead with under nine seconds remaining.
Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins passed up an open look in the ensuing nine seconds before finding Dragicevich for a left wing triple that would have sent the game into overtime.
The Irish overcame a 20-point road deficit one week ago today, winning in an extra session at Villanova, 74-70.
Senior Scott Martin and junior Jack Cooley led the Irish with 18 points apiece; the pair the only Irish scorers in double figures with Cooley adding a game-high 12 rebounds. Atkins, Dragicevich, Jerian Grant, and Pat Connaughton combined to miss 23 of 27 shots from long range.
Martin and Cooley hit 16 of 25 field goal attempts though Martin missed each of his four three-point attempts during the contest.
Freshman and future NBA forward Moe Harkless led the host Johnnies with 20 points, becoming just the second Big East player to hit for 20 or more vs. the Irish in 16 conference games this season; the first in victory. Harkless was aided by fellow freshman D’Angelo Harrison’s 15 points and Garnett’s 11, including the game-clincher.
Notre Dame attempted 19 more shots than did the "Fresh Five," a moniker adopted by the five freshmen Red Storm starters, but the Irish hit just 37.8 percent of their offerings compared to nearly 47 percent by the hosts.
The Irish shot just seven free throws during the contest, a by-product of settling for shots from long range throughout the afternoon.
St. John's (13-16, 6-10) extended, trapping defense bothered Notre Dame's normally efficient attack, especially over the game's first 30 minutes.
On the Horizon...
Notre Dame fell to 12-4 in league play and lost its slim chance for a regular season conference title. Had the Irish won their final three and Syracuse lost Saturday night at Connecticut and next week vs. Louisville, Notre Dame would have captured its first conference crown thanks to a nine-point win over the Orange in mid-January.
The Irish can clinch a double bye in the upcoming conference tournament with two more wins (at Georgetown, 10-5; vs. Providence, 2-13) or one win plus a loss by Cincinnati (10-5) or Georgetown.
Two Irish wins and a loss by Marquette would also afford the Irish double bye status and a second-place finish as Notre Dame holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over the now 13-3 Golden Eagles, who won Friday night at West Virginia.
Notre Dame (20-9) travels to Washington, D.C. for a "Big Monday" game at the Verizon Center vs. the Hoyas. Tip-off is set for 7 pm (ET) on ESPN.