So good in close games during its school-record league win streak, No. 20 Notre Dame.
But when it came time to get a defensive stop Saturday against St. John’s, the Irish came up empty in a 61-58 loss at Madison Square Garden.
It was the first loss for the Irish (20-9, 12-4) since Jan. 15 at Rutgers. It snapped a nine-game league win streak.
Notre Dame has lost four regular-season games in a row to St. John’s at the Garden.
St. John’s led by as many as 12 with 9:16 remaining. Notre Dame got back within two on a basket credited to Jack Cooley but tipped in by a Red Storm defender with 3:29 to play. The Irish had a chance at the lead with just over two minutes left, but Jerian Grant’s 3-pointer bounced off.
Another Cooley basket – on a goaltending call – brought the Irish within one, 57-56, with 1:28 left. Moe Harkless then delivered a layup to push the Red Storm back up three, 59-56, with 56.8 seconds left. A Scott Martin layup gave the Irish a chance – 59-58 – with 44 seconds left.
Martin and Cooley each had 18 points for the Irish. Moe Harkless led the Red Storm (13-16, 6-10) with 22.
The Irish have a history of not playing well at the Garden during the Big East regular season – they last won in the building eight years ago - and that history continued on Saturday. Another sluggish start, another sleepy type of effort in the Garden, and Notre Dame already was down by seven points with 11:14 remaining.
Nearly nine minutes in, the Irish were shooting an anemic 30 percent from the floor with four turnovers.
Mike Brey spent the better part of the first half looking for a combination that might click. He substituted less than two minutes in and continued the revolving door much of the first 20 minutes. At one point, the five on the floor for the Irish were Eric Atkins, Joey Brooks, Pat Connaughton, Alex Dragicevich and Tom Knight.
No group could compete with the quickness St. John’s could offer. There were more than a few times that the Red Storm simply took Irish defenders off the dribble and sailed down the lane for layups. There was little Irish resistance.
The Irish never led in the first half and twice trailed by as many as nine. Notre Dame was down 31-25 at half. The reason? The shots weren’t falling – only 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) from 3. Atkins and Jerian Grant combined to go 1-of-11 from the floor. Grant went scoreless in 19 minutes.
Notre Dame got within four to open the second half before seven straight points from Amir Garrett, including three free throws after being fouled by martin on a 3-pointer, allowed St. John’s to open its first double-digit lead, 38-27.
Looking to get off to a solid start for the first time in a long time inside the long win streak, Notre Dame instead fell into a six-point hole (7-1) by the time the first media timeout arrived at 15:59. St. John’s was able to speed up Notre Dame on offense, and the result was no field goals the first four-plus minutes.
Starters Conanughton and Jack Cooley even spent a quick stay on the bench. They were replaced less than two minutes into the game, but returned less than two minutes later.
Cooley then went back to the bench for a second time in the first six minutes.
Notre Dame tried to do something out of its man-to-man defense the first two minutes before switching to a 2-3 zone after the Red Storm hit their first three shots.
Notre Dame’s league road schedule concludes Monday at No. 9 Georgetown.