A week after pulling out a thrilling five-overtime upset victory over Louisville, the No. 21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish found out what it was like for the shoe to be on the other foot on Saturday.
Notre Dame fell to Providence, 71-54, in a contest that gave the Friars their first four-game winning streak in the Big East since 2004.
Forward Kadeem Batts led the way with a dominant performance inside for Providence. The junior scored 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting and added six rebounds, helping his team control the pace of the game throughout.
Batts was joined by point guard Bryce Cotton, who scored 19 points and was Providence's most consistent outside option. Saturday's game ended a recent cold streak for Cotton, as he had shot just 5-of-21 over the Friars' last two contests.
Those numbers look awfully familiar for the Irish, who struggled with their shots throughout the game.
Although the final score suggests Providence would have won no matter how rested the sides were, one has to wonder whether the clock finally came back to bite the Irish. Notre Dame battled hard-fought overtime victories in its past two contests, and the players' fatigue showed in the second half.
After trudging through the first 20 minutes ahead just eight points, Providence opened up the floodgates following the break. Running a slick inside-out game, the Friars stretched the lead all the way to 24 points at the second half's midpoint.
Point guard Vincent Council dished out four assists in those first 10 minutes, with Providence taking advantage of missed shots on the outside to run its fast-break offense. Notre Dame's struggles were so vast from the outside that it didn't knock down a three-pointer until 9:07 remained.
The Irish went just 1-of-14 from distance, which could be seen as another sign of fatigue. They tried slowly chipping the game back to respectability, but it was to no avail. Providence had the momentum from start to finish, putting Notre Dame in a hole far too big to climb out of.
Although an understandable schedule loss, getting blown out by an unranked squad isn't going to help the Irish's tournament chances. They are still likely a shoo-in for an at-large berth, but with a difficult upcoming schedule, this was a loss Mike Brey's team could not afford.
Meanwhile, it's celebration time in Providence. The Friars aren't tourney-bound unless they win the Big East tournament, but this is a good sign for the budding program.
ESPN's Dana O'Neil wonders whether Saturday's game could be indicative of two teams on far different trajectories:
Providence getting better and Notre Dame heading to late season swoon.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 16, 2013
CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello kept the positive vibes going for the Friars. With a young group of players, he wondered just how good this team will be in 2013-14:
Providence is up 21 on Notre Dame. Would be four wins in a row for the Friars. They're gonna be good next year, man.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 16, 2013
To put it mildly, Brey was not happy with the performance of his team versus Providence. The Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton noted the dismay of the Irish head coach:
Mike Brey calls last TO for #NotreDame, down 21, to yank regulars/wave white flag. Brey sits on bench, shaking head. That's about right.— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) February 16, 2013
There is plenty of good reason for Brey to be unhappy. As the South Bend Tribune's Tom Noie reports, this is Notre Dame's most lopsided in-conference loss since last February:
If the Irish would have listened to CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein, perhaps they would have known such a tough game was on the way:
Have felt for a few weeks that Providence would be a nuisance down the stretch in the Big East. Friars can really score. Batts underrated.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 16, 2013
Regardless of the ultimate result, Notre Dame will have to pick itself up quickly with a road tilt against Pittsburgh coming Monday.