SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — St. John’s coach Steve Levin called it just another day at the Big East school of hard knocks. Basketball and not basketball, too.
For 20 minutes, the Red Storm looked like they could use their athleticism to beat No. 24 Notre Dame for a fourth straight time and add another line to their resume in hopes of earning a spot in the NCAA tournament. Then St. John’s had a disastrous second half where it shot 18 percent and scored 14 points as the Red Storm fell 66-40 to the Fighting Irish on Tuesday night.
“Just frustrated with our performance in the second half,” Lavin said. “Disappointed with our level of play the second 20 minutes because the first half was so encouraging. There were some really good things we did in the first half. But Notre Dame showed their maturity and in an old-fashioned way, in an old-fashioned manner just put us away. They put the nail in the coffin and then some.”
Notre Dame’s Cameron Biedscheid and Sir’Dominic Pointer of the Red Storm got in a fight with 1:46 left in the game. Both players were given technicals and ejected and will sit out their next games.
Brey and Lavin both said they didn’t get a good look at what happened. Lavin said his assistants told him the two started talking while JaKarr Sampson of St. John’s was shooting free throws seconds earlier. Lavin said Pointer told him “he just lost his cool.”
Brey said Biedscheid told him he was defending himself.
“He felt it started with the other guy and he defended himself. But under the rule, if you do throw a punch you’re ejected,” Brey said.
Amir Garrett of the Red Storm was ejected for leaving the bench. The Big East said it would review what happened.
That means St. John, who last week suspended leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison for the rest of the season, could be without three players against No. 15 Marquette on Saturday.
“Other players are going to have to step up and we’re going to have to find a way to be competitive with the group that we have,” Lavin said.
Notre Dame guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins took over as they got more aggressive in the second half, penetrating against the Red Storm defense to get their teammates going. After shooting 28 percent from the field in the first half, the Irish shot 68 percent in the second.
Grant had 21 points and eight assists, Atkins added 15 points and seven assists and the two had just one turnover apiece.
“When our guards are playing like that, I just sit down and shut up and let them do whatever they want. They were fabulous to watch,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
The Fighting Irish (23-7, 11-6 Big East) ended a three-game losing streak to the Red Storm (16-13, 8-9), who lost for the fifth time in six games.
Grant kept the Irish in the game early, scoring 10 of Notre Dame’s first 19 points. The Red Storm went ahead 26-19 when Pointer hit a 3-pointer to cap an 8-0 run with a minute to go in the first half.
But then Atkins hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 26-22 at halftime, and Notre Dame opened the second half on a 29-8 run to take control.
“We got some in transition where they weren’t set. That helped us,” Brey said.
Lavin said the difference was the Irish took high-percentage shots in the second half, and credited Grant and Atkins.
“They just carved us up, just sliced us up for easy baskets,” he said.
Sampson had 12 points and Phil Greene added 10 for the Red Storm, who finished with 10 blocked shots.
Greene said the Red Storm settled for jump shots too often in the second half.
“You have to play through the paint. They went to the paint and we didn’t,” he said.
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