Head coach Mike Brey didn’t beat around the bush after Wednesday night’s defeat and made it clear that his team needs to break out of its slump one way or another.
“Cincinnati played really well,” Brey said. “And we are really struggling. We’re struggling. We are struggling, baby. No excuses, we’re back on our heels, confidence is banged up a little bit. I told them, I said, ‘all I know how to do is to go back and work and try to figure out how to put them in a better position,’ but we’re back on our heels and that’s how it is, again I don’t want to take anything away from Cincinnati, I thought they played very well tonight. They’re a much improved basketball program, they’ve got great size and they shot the heck out of it tonight, a little bit better than I thought they would.”
After dropping its previous five games to Top 25 teams, the Bearcats (15-8, 5-5) became the newest squad to take down Notre Dame (12-9, 3-7), thanks in part to the guard duo of Deonta Vaughn and Larry Davis. Vaughn finished with a season-high 34 points, going 19-of-22 from the free throw line. Davis was one of the main contributors in a 27-9 run in the second half that helped bury the Irish. The sophomore finished with a career-high 21 points in the contest, 13 of which came in the first nine minutes of the second half.
Luke Harangody recorded his 11th-straight double-double for Notre Dame, picking up 28 points and 14 boards. Although the past couple of games have seen the reigning Big East Player of the Year as the only offensive presence for the Irish, the squad did get some offense from its slumping seniors in Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland. Ayers finished the contest with 14 points, while Hillesland added 11.
“I like that we’re getting some more offense right now from those guys,” Brey said. “And I think that we’ve got Ryan back in a good frame of mind, no question about it. 83 points should be enough, but when we can’t control Vaughn and he’s crushing us, of course he went to the line 22 times, I just saw that. We’ve been waiting on Ryan and that’s something we can build on. Zach certainly driving and if we can keep up that offensive rhythm going and tweak some things defensively, we’ll always have a shot.”
The game was one in which emotions flared up, most notably at the end of the first half in which Kyle McAlarney confronted one of Cincinnati’s players, causing the guard to get a technical foul.
“Yeah, you know, we were attacking and driving,” Brey said. “We got some stuff in transition. The end of the half hurt us, Kyle reacting there. It was kind of a chippy game. You’ve got to control your emotions right there. That didn’t help us, and I just talked to him in the locker room. I said, ‘I understand about having your teammates’ back but they always catch the second thing,’ so we’ve got to be better, and that’s part of a little bit of frustration that we’re in. I mean, I love our guys that they want to fight and go for it and everything, but cooler heads have to prevail.”
McAlarney finished with 13 points, going 9-of-9 from the charity stripe, but struggled from the field, going just 2-of-12. Point guard Tory Jackson chipped in with 11 more points, marking the fifth Irish player to record double figures in points.
Now that Notre Dame essentially cannot afford more losses in conference play, the stakes will continue to get higher and higher. If the Irish cannot snap this six-game losing skid, an NCAA Tournament bid may be slipping out of their grasp. To overcome this, Brey is looking for a change in attitude and frame of mind.
“The backboards for the most part was okay, they got some second shots,” he said. “But frame of mind, we’ve got a lot of basketball to be played. We have to find a little bit of a rhythm. We’ve got to do that in Los Angeles, because they’ve got a pretty good team out there. It’s never your turn in basketball, it’s never your turn. You’ve got to take it. I think we tried at times tonight to take it but we weren’t quite mentally tough enough at times, but we’re still playing basketball, so we’ve got to come back and go to work.”