The Notre Dame Fighting Irish started ugly in their opening round NCAA Tournament game vs. the Xavier Musketeers, but they finished uglier, and it was that which cost them a chance to make a run in a bracket that was opened up by the Lehigh Mountain Hawks' defeat of the Duke Blue Devils earlier in the night. The Irish led for most of the second half— at one point stretching their lead to 11 points— but the Musketeers fought back and eventually secured a 67-63 victory after a few mistakes that will haunt Irish fans and players for years to come.
The first blunder came with the Irish nursing a 63-62 lead with 32 seconds left in the game, when guard Eric Atkins, under the pressure of a light Musketeers press, overthrew Pat Connaughton as Connaughton rotated up from the corner of the court. That turnover was followed by an stunning acrobatic lay up by Xavier star Tu Holloway which put the Musketeers up a point, and after a missed Irish three and a free throw split by Xavier's Dezmine Wells, Atkins was fouled as he pushed the ball up the court with the Irish down two. Atkins sunk the front end of a one-and-one, but Jerian Grant was called for a lane violation, negating the basket and returning the ball to Xavier. From there, the Musketeers hit their free throws and escaped with a victory.
The loss was certainly painful for Irish fans and players, but it's hard to look at the season as a failure after Notre Dame's best player, forward Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL in the November and was lost for the year. The future also seems to be bright in South Bend, as every player who saw major minutes on Friday night is expected back, with the exception of senior Scott Martin. If the NCAA decides to grant Abromaitis a medical harship redshirt, the Irish may be one of the top teams in the Big East next year.
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