DAYTON, Ohio -- This was surely not the way Friday night played out in Notre Dame's imagination, with Iowa State's tail lights receding rapidly in the distance.
But in the end, the end was emphatic, a 76-58 loss to Iowa State that actually looked better than it was, considering the Cyclones took their foot off the gas and Notre Dame scored the last nine points of the game. That turned a 27-point deficit with 3:09 left into an 18-point loss.
Afterward, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said the obvious: The Irish were sloppy with the basketball (17 turnovers, 14 in the first half), struggled to score at their end and couldn't get a stop when they needed one at the other end.
"They are really good, and I'm thoroughly disappointed in us tonight," Brey said of Notre Dame's worst loss of the season. "It's crushing we weren't better in the first half and better with the basketball. It's a hard one to swallow."
Notre Dame, which came in averaging just 11 turnovers a game, turned the ball over 18 times, 14 in the first half, and were continually beaten off the dribble by the quicker, more athletic Cyclones, who exploited the 18 turnovers for 16 points and outscored the Irish 12-2 on the break.
"They're very, very hard to guard. They're very good. They're kind of a nightmare matchup," Brey said. "I really felt it was men playing against boys most of the night."
If so, that only intensified the pain for a Notre Dame team that's made the tournament nine times in 13 seasons under Brey, but has gotten out of the first weekend just once and has lost its opening game three times in the last four years.
"It hurts," said guard Jerian Grant. "All season we felt we had a team that could make a deep run in March, and I really believe that we just picked the worst day to have our worst game."
It's a pattern with which everyone in the program is sadly familiar.
"It stings," Brey admitted. "I really would think it's the next step for our program. We've been so consistent in the regular season, and we haven't able to do much here. That's what keeps me up at night and keeps me trying to figure out how we could be better at it. That's like the unfinished business for this program.
"This thing has been this is a hump we can't get over yet. But we'll keep trying to figure it out."
And in other news ...
* Notre Dame is now 5-5 under Brey as the higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, and 6-9 overall.
* Notre Dame's lost was insult to an injurious day for the Big East. The conference went 0-4 on Friday, a run that included 2-seed Georgetown's loss to 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast.
* For just the third time this season, Notre Dame had more turnovers (17) than assists (8).
* The 76 points put up by Iowa State were the most against Notre Dame this season in regulation.