HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Notre Dame continued its impressive run through the Big East, beating another ranked opponent and sending No. 24 Connecticut to its third straight loss.
Eric Atkins scored 13 points and Jerian Grant hit three key free throws late as the Irish (14-8, 6-3) held on for their third straight win, 50-48 over the Huskies.
“We really controlled the tempo,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “And that takes its toll on a team over 40 minutes when the offensive rhythm isn’t quite there.”
The loss spoiled the return of freshman guard Ryan Boatright for Connecticut (14-6, 4-4). He had missed the last three games amid an NCAA investigation into his eligibility.
“It’s been mentally draining,” said Boatright, who scored six points. “But I can finally say that it is put behind me and we can move on.”
The Huskies were 1-2 since Boatright was removed from the lineup. They won at Notre Dame, snapping the Irish’s 29-game home-court winning streak, before losing consecutive games to Cincinnati and Tennessee, both by three points.
Notre Dame trailed this one 24-21 at halftime, but went on a 13-0 run to open the second half.
Jeremy Lamb had 16 points to lead the Huskies and had a chance to tie the game after missing his second free throw with 2.3 seconds left on purpose. He grabbed the rebound of the miss but his off-balance follow bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“If Jeremy’s shot had gone in, I wasn’t going to be jumping,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. “The game was lost over the 40 minutes. It particularly was lost as we began the second half.”
Freshman Andre Drummond had 15 points and 11 rebounds for UConn.
Grant had 11 points and Scott Martin added 10 for Notre Dame, which outrebounded UConn 33-29 including 11-7 on the offensive end.
“I think there was that one possession where we had two or three offensive rebounds, Martin said. “We probably had the ball for a minute-and-a-half. That was probably a turning point for us in the game. We really knew at that point we had the tempo how we wanted it.”
The win caps a good week for the Irish. They beat then-No. 1 Syracuse on Jan. 21 before winning at Seton Hall. Notre Dame set team records in that game by allowing the Pirates just 15 field goals, and 42 points.
“To be 6-3 halfway through this league; if you would have told me that after the Indiana game (a 69-58 loss on Dec. 17) or after Missouri beat us by 29 … I don’t know,” Brey said. “I’m really proud of this group, and it’s a lot of fun working with them.”
It hasn’t been much fun for UConn.
Boatright was cleared Saturday by the NCAA to return to action, despite a finding by the governing body that he and his mother received more than $8,000 in impermissible benefits both before and after he enrolled in school.
He made his first appearance 4 minutes into the game, entering to a standing ovation. He scored his first points on a runner in the lane at the halftime buzzer.
“(His teammates) are glad to have him back,” Calhoun said. “They didn’t seem that glad the way they played, but Ryan is a terrific kid. We’re glad to have him back on the team and he’s going to have a terrific career at UConn.”
Notre Dame blocked three shots during its second-half run that turned a 24-21 deficit into a 34-24 lead. Scott Martin capped it with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Connecticut didn’t have a field goal for the first 7 minutes of the second half, but the Huskies trailed by just five points after a basket by Drummond and a 3-pointer by Lamb.
Drummond brought the crowd back into the game with a rebound, dunk and free throw that cut the deficit to 36-34 with 7:30 left in the game. But the Huskies never retook the lead.
A Notre Dame steal and a layup by Atkins pushed the lead to 44-38 with 4 minutes left.
A driving layup by Boatright made it 45-42 with a minute left. A steal by Roscoe Smith gave the Huskies a chance to tie, but Shabazz Napier missed a 3-pointer and Pat Connaughton calmly hit two free throws on the other end.
An dunk by Drummond on an alley-oop pass from Napier made it 47-44 with 36 seconds left.
UConn’s defense forced an inbounds 5-second call before the Irish could get a timeout. But Napier missed everything on another 3-point attempt. He was 0 for 7 from behind the arc.
Grant hit three free throws around a 3-pointer from Lamb to make it 50-47.
The Huskies held the Irish to just 36 percent shooting in the first half. But Notre Dame stayed in the game by hitting four of their nine 3-point attempts. They were 7 of 22 from long range for the game.
Drummond and Lamb carried UConn in the first half, scoring 15 of the team’s 24 points. Those two were 7 of 12 from the field while the rest of the team was 4 of 10.
Connecticut has been ranked in the Top 25 for 28 straight weeks, the fifth-longest stretch in program history, a run that is likely to end Monday.
“We’re going through some hard times right now,” Lamb said. “We just have to find a way to get through it.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.