DAYTON, Ohio -- A grim-faced Mike Brey pondered a Friday night dilemma with hands-in-his pockets contemplation.
His Notre Dame Fighting Irish had gathered in a circled timeout on the University of Dayton Arena court, awaiting instructions that offered little hope in this East Region second-round game. What was there to say that could wipe away a 24-point deficit in the six remaining minutes?
In fact, there was nothing.
Brey set up a play that resulted in another fruitless possession. Tenth-seeded Iowa State (23-11) took advantage with another three-point dagger.
And so it went in what became a 76-58 Cyclones victory.
Their reward was a Sunday third-round match up with second-seed Ohio State (27-7). The Buckeyes advanced with a 95-70 win over Iona. It was their ninth straight victory.
Notre Dame's reward was an early trip home.
This was the Irish's third one-and-done NCAA tourney performance in the last four years, and second straight. In 10 NCAA appearances under Brey, Notre Dame (25-10) has advanced to the Sweet 16 just once, in 2003.
“It hurts,” guard Jerian Grant said. “All season we felt we had a team that could make a deep run in March. I really believed that. We picked the worst day to have our worst game.”
That “worst” game left Brey wondering what might have been.
“Iowa State is really good and I'm thoroughly disappointed in us,” he said. “It's crushing we weren't better in the first half and better with the ball. They had a lot to do with that.
“It's a hard one to swallow. I don't want to take anything away from Iowa State. They're so potent offensively. They keep you spread. At times it was men playing against boys.”
That was unexpected given Notre Dame's success in the rugged Big East, which includes four straight trips to the conference tourney's semifinal round. It's become an annual NCAA tourney problem Brey has struggled to solve.
“It's the next step for our program,” Brey said. “We've been so consistent in the regular season and we haven't been able to do much here. That's what keeps me up at night and keeps me trying to figure out how we can be better at it.”
At least Notre Dame won't have the Big East to worry about anymore. The Irish are moving to the ACC starting next season.
“We've got to maneuver a new league next year,” Brey said.
“This is a hump we can't get over yet, but we'll keep trying to figure it out.”
Seventh-seed Notre Dame got 14 points from senior forward Jack Cooley in his final college game. It got 14 more points from another senior forward, Tom Knight.
That wasn't nearly enough against Iowa State's full-throttle assault. Forward Georges Niang had 19 points and four assists. Fellow forward Melvin Ejim added 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Notre Dame entered the game knowing it had to stop Iowa State's prolific three-point shooting.
It didn't happen.
The Irish knew they had to take care of the ball.
It didn't happen.
Notre Dame had 14 first-half turnovers, and 17 for the game. It allowed Iowa State to make nine three-pointers, and when it got too preoccupied with that, the Cyclones drove for inside baskets.
“To turn it over 14 times in the first half is hard to come back from,” Grant said. “It's something we don't normally do. It hurts.”
Attention to detail also was a problem. Notre Dame gave up a layup at the end of the first half, a dunk at the start of the second.
A shaky first half dominated by turnovers and porous defense put Notre Dame in a 35-23 hole.
It could have been worse, and it quickly got worse. Iowa hit its first three shots of the second half to go up 41-25.
The Irish regrouped. They scored six straight points to cut the lead to 10. They had a chance.
Then they didn't.
Iowa State went on a 10-2 run to go up 51-33 with 13 minutes left. It cruised from there.
“We played with tremendous aggressiveness on defense, especially early in the game,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We set the tone with our ball pressure. If you play against Notre Dame in the half-court, it's going to be a long night. We really wanted to control the tempo.”
The Cyclones will face an Ohio State team led by forward Deshaun Thomas. The former Bishop Luers standout had a game-high 24 points against Iona.