Irish hit threes as Storm fizzles early

D.J. Kennedy of the St. John's Red Storm

D.J. Kennedy of the St. John's Red Storm plays against the Georgetown Hoyas, Monday. (Jan. 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. - St. John's never got untracked in its bid for its first 4-0 Big East start since 1999-2000.

The Red Storm was blitzed in the first half and trailed the entire game in Steve Lavin's first Big East loss, 76-61, at No. 14 Notre Dame Saturday night.

St. John's (10-4, 3-1) came undone quickly, falling behind 15-4. The Red Storm missed six of its first eight shots, senior Justin Burrell picked up two fouls in the first 5:43 and Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee each slipped and lost possession in the early going.

On the other end, Ben Hansbrough had three three-pointers in a 2 ½-minute span as part of a career-best 26-point night for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame entered the game having hit 37.8 percent of its three-pointers to rank third in the Big East, and St. John's was allowing opponents to shoot 36.8 percent on threes for the second-worst mark in the conference.

"I thought Notre Dame . . . really controlled the tempo," Lavin said. "They executed efficiently on the offensive end and they disrupted what we tried to do on the defensive end. They have a number of accurate shooters from distance. As a result, they stretch you."

The Red Storm was still within striking distance after Brownlee's three-pointer that cut the deficit to 29-20 with 6:06 left in the first half. But Notre Dame responded by scoring at least one point on its final eight possessions of the half.

At that point, Notre Dame led 44-25 and was well on its way to improving to 11-0 at home. The Fighting Irish shot 54.2 percent in the first half and made 7 of 12 threes.

St. John's allowed Notre Dame (14-2, 3-1) to get into the bonus with 10:36 remaining in the first half. The Fighting Irish average a Big East-leading 26.5 free throws and made 11 of 15 in the first half, although they finished with 23 attempts.

The fouling seemed to frustrate the Red Storm, with Burrell admonishing freshman Dwayne Polee II to "just stand there!'' after Polee hacked an Irish player while double-teaming the post on one occasion.

The Red Storm never got closer than 13 points after the break. Hansbrough gave Notre Dame its largest lead at 66-41 with a three that beat the shot clock with 5:19 to go.

"They [Irish] did a nice job of congesting the lane area so we weren't able to try and get the kind of looks we like," Lavin said. "We had five starters with two fouls, so our entire starting lineup was on the bench with foul trouble. And that's a credit to Notre Dame and their ability to space the floor and kind of put you in jeopardy."

Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin each had 12 points for Notre Dame, which avenged a 69-68 home loss to St. John's last season. The Irish became the first team to shoot more than 50 percent against the Red Storm, finishing at 51.0 percent.

Brownlee had 17 points for St. John's, which was held to 38.2-percent shooting. Leading scorer Hardy was limited to eight points after averaging 21.3 in his previous four games.

"We missed some point-blank shots early, like five layups," Lavin said. "And those are deflating plays that allowed Notre Dame to put some distance between us.

"In this league, you can't let one loss bleed into two losses or three. You can't get your daubers down."

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