Slumping St. Francis, ranked third in the latest CIF Southern Section Division III-A poll, dipped to 15-10, 4-7 in league. Notre Dame, No. 12 in Division IV-AA, improved to 9-17, 1-10. St. Francis dropped to 1-4 in the second half of league play with a regular-season finale league game at Chaminade, ranked second in Division III-A, on deck Wednesday.
"We've been playing like individuals and not the team that started league with hustle and energy," said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien, whose team dropped its third straight game. "It's gut-check time for us and we need to find out exactly who we are.
"[Notre Dame] was desperate for a [league] win and they showed that, especially in the first half. They outplayed us on sheer energy. We've let a little success go to our heads. We've stopped being hungry."
St. Francis rallied in the fourth quarter to take the lead briefly when Noah Willerford made a three-pointer to give the Golden Knights a 44-43 advantage with 1:15 remaining.
Notre Dame, which snapped an 11-game losing streak, regained the lead at 45-44 on a pair of free throws by Tyler Umans with 38.5 seconds remaining. Willerford attempted another three-pointer on the ensuing possession, but missed and Umans was fouled before making two free throws to extend the lead to 47-44 with 23 seconds left. A three-pointer by Willerford was off the mark with 5.9 seconds remaining. Ryan Ducar of Notre Dame was then fouled and made one of two free-throw attempts to cap the scoring.
St. Francis junior point guard Michael Allen said St. Francis learned a valuable lesson.
"You have to be focused right from the start, no matter who you are playing," said Allen, who collected four points. "We've been in a lot of close games, but we weren't able to put it together tonight.
"We need to get a win going into the playoffs."
St. Francis received a team-high 21 points from junior guard Kyle Leufroy, a reigning All-Area honoree. Willerford finished with 11 points, including three three-pointers.
Notre Dame, which split the two-game season series against St. Francis, received 13 points from Luca Ferrari and 12 from Elijah Ellen.
St. Francis recorded a 54-46 home win against Chaminade (20-4, 8-3) on Jan. 27.
"It's another chance, but we have to be better prepared," said O'Brien, whose team trailed, 28-19, at halftime. "In this league, anybody can beat anybody."
The CIF Southern Section playoff pairings will be unveiled Sunday.