NOTRE DAME — An Eric Atkins jumper tied the game at 58, and for a moment, everything seemed like it would be OK for Notre Dame.
The Irish were the ranked team playing at home, defending a 12-game winning streak and a 17-home-game winning streak. The momentum favored them.
But in that final minute, Connecticut — the team responsible for Notre Dame’s last home game loss this time last year — scored seven unanswered points to break both Irish streaks.
UConn (12-3, 2-1 Big East) rallied past No. 17/16 Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1 Big East), 65-58, at the Purcell Pavilion Saturday afternoon.
The Irish coughed up its final chance at a comeback when Jack Cooley tipped a missed UConn free throw into the hands of Deandre Daniels, whose ensuing layup put the Huskies up by six points with 12 seconds left.
Although Notre Dame led through the first half and into the opening minutes of the second half, something never felt right to head coach Mike Brey.
“It never felt good in there,” Brey said. “The vibe was different than other nights. (Winning) would have had to been a theft. When Jack Cooley gets a rebound and punches it in off a guy’s hand, and he scores, that’s kind of the exclamation point: ‘Not tonight.’”
While Notre Dame concerned itself with UConn’s Shabazz Napier (17.4 points per game) and Ryan Boatright (16.2 ppg), junior forward Tyler Olander sneaked in to steal the show.
Olander, a former Notre Dame recruitment target, came into the contest averaging 4.6 points per game, the lowest of any starter on the court.
He finished the night 8-9 from the field for 16 total points — including 12 in the second half alone.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said Olander’s surprising performance came from the 6-foot-9 junior’s “self-fortitude.”
“His belief that he can go out and get the ball no matter who is in front of him,” Ollie said. “Cooley is a big time match-up but I thought it was a stand-still today.”
Things went well enough for the Irish early, before Olander broke out with 10 points in the first seven minutes of the second half
Notre Dame was shooting a fair 44.8 percent from the field and 3- to 6-point leads but couldn’t seem to shake the Huskies. UConn surged ahead early in the second half off a Daniels layup and relinquished the lead only once before holding on for good.
The inside game that worked so well for the Irish in the first half began to falter with missed shots and a lack of rebounding. The rhythm Notre Dame maintained in the first half was shaken.
“Today we’d get to the lane but didn’t do as well at drawing fouls as we usually do,” Cooley said. “We usually shoot a lot more free throws than we did today and make easy buckets, but we didn’t really capitalize on that.”
Napier led all scorers with 19 points. Atkins led the Irish with 18, while Cooley contributed 14.
Notre Dame travels to New York to face St. John’s — the only other team that’s beaten them this year — on Tuesday night.