SOUTH BEND — Trying to cover his red face and watery eyes by wrapping a white towel around his head didn't mask the misery of the moment for Notre Dame senior guard Matt Farrell.
This one hurt. A lot. Cuts deep to the heart for one of the Irish captains who kept playing, kept believing.
Farrell wanted nothing more than to try to pull along an injury-depleted team long enough and far enough that getting back to the NCAA tournament would be a realistic goal. But to do that, to really make that a possibility, Farrell and the Irish were going to have to do some serious work and win in a place they seemingly always had — at home.
One more loss at Purcell Pavilion — the fourth in Atlantic Coast Conference play and the fifth overall in a frustrating home season — all but assured that barring some March miracles, the dream of making a fourth straight trip back to the NCAA tournament would remain just that.
Farrell scored 16 points with six assists and six rebounds, but Notre Dame lost to Miami, 77-74. Farrell was overcome with emotion just after the playing of the alma mater as he headed to the locker room.
He played all 40 minutes doing all he could. On the floor, that meant making shots and making plays. On the bench, it meant talking the loudest in huddles to the point that coach Mike Brey said next to nothing the final 20 minutes that saw Notre Dame swing between a 10-point deficit and a five-point advantage.
In the end, it wasn't enough.
Notre Dame dropped to 16-12, 6-9 and 12th place in the ACC. Three games remain in the regular season — a visit Saturday to Wake Forest, a regular-season home finale against winless Pittsburgh and a trip to No. 1 Virginia. Win all three and the Irish still can get to 9-9 heading to the conference tournament in Brooklyn with a chance, however slim, of getting back to the NCAA tournament. But those hopes faded with Monday's final horn.
“Still playing basketball, baby,” Brey said when asked where his team goes from here now that the prospect of 9-9 might not happen. “We've got to play it out. I've got no predictions. I've got no crystal ball where we're at.”
Here's where they're at — 2-8 in league play against teams with winning records and average — 4-4 — at home in league play. Those numbers just aren't good enough for the field of 68. And the way Farrell looked and sounded Monday, he likely knows that special basketball day — now 19 days away — won't include the Notre Dame name.
That's what hurts most. His senior season isn't going to end anywhere near how he had hoped. Had planned. Had wanted.
“Hard; very hard,” Farrell said through sniffles with his voice a near whisper. “Lot of different emotions. Sucks. It is what it is.”
What is it?
“We lost,” Farrell said. “We don't make excuses. Whoever's on the floor is on the floor. We lost. This one's going to hurt all week.”
Hurt a little more for Farrell and his fellow seniors. Previous seasons saw Notre Dame make the plays that needed to be made to win these home games. But not this year — their last year. Didn't happen against Ball State back in December, or against North Carolina or Louisville or Virginia Tech in conference play. Didn't happen again Monday.
“We've been able to close them out,” Brey said. “But not this year.”
Teams that go to NCAA Tournaments don't lose — can't lose — five home games. The Irish have, and that's why they know what next month means.
“Kind of an unusual feeling,” said senior power forward Martinas Geben, who scored a team-high 19 points with seven rebounds. “We used to win these games. We used to pull them out and make the key plays we need to down the stretch.
“That hasn't happened. We're trying to not let that get us down.”
Notre Dame again lost without having a full complement of players. Power forward Bonzie Colson still is out with a broken foot but was in full uniform. He's expected to be cleared for practice this week. Junior guard Rex Pflueger was sidelined with a bad back after taking a fall Saturday at Boston College.
Notre Dame closed out the final three-plus minutes of a game it trailed by as many 10 in the second half with sophomore Nik Djogo, junior Elijah Burns and graduate student Austin Torres on the floor in the gotta-have game.
But it was the guys in orange that made all the key plays. A big shot. A big rebound. A follow-up and free throw. Those were plays the Irish long made in their building, on their floor, but again, it was the other guys who got out of town with a win.
“They hit big shots; they hit tough shots,” Farrell said. “We were there then. It's been that way all year. We just can't finish it.
“It's a terrible feeling.”
Struggling to get anything going on the offensive end, the Irish saw Farrell take matters into his hands. Quiet much of the night after going for a career-high 37 points Saturday at Boston College, Farrell delivered a walk-in, pull-up 3 in transition to tie it at 52 with 10:53 remaining. And when Djogo dropped in a top-of-the-key 3, the Irish were up 55-52 with just over 10 minutes left. That run was part of a stretch in which Notre Dame connected on eight straight shots. But just when the Irish were feeling good, back came the Hurricanes with 11 straight points to go back up six with 4:20 remaining.
Notre Dame got close. Again.
Irish freshman swingman D.J. Harvey remains out with a bone bruise to his left knee. He's not expected to return this season after aggravating the injury Friday at practice. Harvey was playing 5-on-5, went to cut laterally and pulled up. He may have surgery; he may not. But he's done. And that also hurts.
“I don't know if we have some cartilage going on in there,” Brey said. “Too bad because he would have gotten a lot of minutes in this vacuum of injuries.
“That's a loss.”
One of many this season.
MIAMI 77, NOTRE DAME 74
At Purcell Pavilion
MIAMI (19-8): Huell 3-7 1-2 7, Izundu 7-8 0-1 14, Newton 5-11 2-4 12, Walker 7-14 0-0 19, Lawrence 2-7 2-3 7, Waardenburg 2-5 0-0 6, Miller 0-0 0-2 0, Vasiljevic 1-1 0-0 3, Lykes 4-5 1-2 9. Totals 31-58 6-14 77.
NOTRE DAME (16-12): Mooney 4-8 1-4 10, Geben 7-11 5-5 19, Gibbs 4-7 2-2 11, Djogo 3-11 0-0 7, Farrell 5-9 2-2 16, Burns 1-3 1-1 3, Torres 4-4 0-0 8. Totals 28-53 11-14 74.
Halftime--Miami 38-29. 3-Point Goals--Miami 9-19 (Walker 5-7, Waardenburg 2-4, Vasiljevic 1-1, Lawrence 1-5, Newton 0-1, Lykes 0-1), Notre Dame 7-20 (Farrell 4-8, Gibbs 1-3, Djogo 1-4, Mooney 1-5). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Miami 25 (Izundu 8), Notre Dame 31 (Geben 7). Assists--Miami 15 (Lawrence 6), Notre Dame 14 (Farrell 6). Total Fouls--Miami 14, Notre Dame 13. A--9,149 (9,149).