Bounce-back basketball chance up next for Notre Dame men

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Frustration could fester early Saturday evening while the team bus rolled the 150 miles or so up U.S. 31, through the open fields and past the green highway exit signs for Kokomo and Logansport, Plymouth and Lakeville.

But once the Notre Dame men’s basketball team arrived at the rear arena receiving door of Purcell Pavilion and the luggage and the equipment and the bruised egos were unloaded, focus was required.

There’s no time for the Irish to feel sorry for themselves over what might have been Saturday at the fifth-annual Crossroads Classic against Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Rolling something serious on both ends of the floor, really for the first time over an extended stretch this season, Notre Dame raced to a 16-point lead early in the second half.

But then seemingly in a snap – poof! – it all disappeared and ended with the Irish having to swallow and swallow hard in an 80-73 loss. Dwell on the disappointment, and Youngstown State (5-7) will drop another lump of Christmas coal Monday into Notre Dame’s holiday stocking.

Just over 48 hours after having it unravel in Indianapolis, the Irish (7-3) get a chance to feel good about themselves again before a five-day basketball break.

“That’s the best part about this game – it’s a game of quick turnarounds,” said senior power forward Zach Auguste. “That’s the game – you lose one today, but you can go out and win one tomorrow.”

That’s also the tough part about the game, something Notre Dame knows well early in what was supposed to be a big-time season to back up last year’s 32-6 run. But it’s a veteran team playing in un-veteran ways in close games.

The Irish were supposed to have lived and learned and been better for what led to two losses in four days last month at the AdvoCare Invitational on the grounds of Disney World. But much of what Notre Dame couldn’t do in a two-point loss to Monmouth and a one-point setback to Alabama came calling late against Indiana.

With similar results.

Tied against Monmouth with 32 seconds remaining, Notre Dame couldn’t get one stop to force overtime. With Notre Dame up one against Alabama and 28.6 remaining, Auguste missed two free throws before the Crimson Tide cut up a soft Irish zone for the winning bucket with six seconds remaining.

All those issues resurfaced again Saturday.

A Bonzie Colson bucket with 2:55 remaining put Notre Dame up two. The Irish then missed their last seven shots. Colson whiffed on two free throws. Demetrius Jackson had a crusher turnover. On the defensive end, the cutting and moving and active Hoosiers simply were too hard to handle. Indiana closed it out with nine free throws.

Instead of learning from what it couldn’t do down at Disney and being better at it, the Irish repeated almost all of it in a nightmare scenario.

“We let one slip away,” said junior guard Steve Vasturia. “We had a great opportunity to close out a game and that’s something we’ve got to get better at. We’re going to be in those situations.

“We thought we had it.”

History was in the Irish corner.

It’s rare for Notre Dame to build a double-digit lead, get an advantage to a point (16) where many in the crowd are booing the opposition the way Indiana faithful did, and fall apart. Saturday was the first time the Irish led by as many as 16 points but failed to cross the finish line first since the 2011 Big East Championship semifinal loss to Louisville.

Notre Dame led by 16 points late in the first half before ultimately losing 83-77 in overtime. That Irish outfit had sailed through league play 14-4 and won 27 overall games, but they were never the same after that near-miss at Madison Square Garden. A dream season ended quickly. convincingly to Florida State in the third round of the NCAA tournament

Only three times since has Notre Dame lost games after leading by as many as 10 points - one on the road (Maryland in 2014), one at home (Pittsburgh, 2014) and one, like Saturday, at a neutral site (Xavier, 2012 NCAA tournament).

What will it take for Notre Dame to close out a close contest this season? Getting better movement and shot selection and taking care of the ball on the offensive end would help, but the Irish all insist that being better at the end of games starts on the other end.

Getting stops cures other ills. The Irish couldn’t do it Saturday, and they were left to stomach the end result.

“We’ve just got to take more pride in guarding our guy,” said Colson, who saw a career-best 24 points wasted in the breakdown/meltdown. “We just have to keep going back to the fundamentals of defense and guarding our guy, just be able to slide our feet.”

Getting stops, Auguste insists, allows the Irish to feel really good – really confident – on the offensive end. That was the case for a good chunk of the game before the collapse. Notre Dame connected on nine of its first 13 shots in the first half, then its first seven to start the second because it dug in and defended.

When the shots stopped falling, so did the guarding and the moving and the talking and the defending.

“That’s something we need to continue to work on,” Auguste said.

Again.

Another chance awaits Monday against Youngstown State, and then again eight days later against Liberty to close the non-conference. After that, the really tough stuff starts with the Atlantic Coast Conference opener Jan. 2 at No. 8 Virginia.

Notre Dame has been good in bounce-back games after the Monmouth and Alabama losses. It has a chance to be again Monday.

“It’s good to play again,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Hopefully you can go into Christmas break with a win.”

• Brey will coach Monday's game following the weekend death of his father, Paul, in Florida.

Paul Brey had suffered from dementia. He had been in declining health since his wife, Betty, suffered a fatal heart attack in March, only hours before Notre Dame beat Butler in the NCAA tournament. He coached that game as a tribute to her.

"She was with me all the way tonight," Brey said after the win.

During Notre Dame's participation in the AdvoCare Invitational in Central Florida last month, Brey planned to spend part of the tournament's off day with his father, who lived outside of Orlando. Paul Brey, who died Saturday night, was 85 years old.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (7-3) vs. Youngstown State (5-7).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Monday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: None. The game can be seen online at ESPN3 and WatchND.TV.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

WORTH NOTING: Cameron Morse scored 10 points and Brett Frantz added nine Saturday in Youngstown State’s 105-46 loss at Michigan. The Penguins shot 29.8 percent from the field and were outrebounded 46-23. It started a four-game road trip for Youngstown State, which is in a stretch of five of six away from home. The Penguins are 1-4 on the road with a win at Niagara and losses at Kent State, Purdue, Michigan and Florida Gulf Coast, where it lost 104-101 in triple overtime. … Youngstown State has lost three of four after winning four in a row. … The Penguins average 73.9 points and allow 77.7. … Picked in preseason to finish ninth in the 10-team Horizon League, Youngstown State returns one starter off last year’s team that went 11-21, 2-14 and ninth in the league. … This is coach Jerry Slocum’s 10th season at Youngstown State and 41st overall. … Youngstown State took an August foreign tour of the Bahamas. … Morse leads the Penguins in scoring (14.0). Senior center Bobby Hain, a second team all-league preseason pick, averages 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. … Ten Penguins average at least 12 minutes a game. … Irish coach Mike Brey’s son Kyle, is finishing his second season as tight ends coach for Youngstown State’s football team, which went 5-6 in 2015. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 2-0. The teams last met Nov. 24, 2007, an 87-75 Irish victory. … This is the first of only two Saturday-Monday turnarounds for Notre Dame. … The Irish set season lows for free throws attempted (eight) and made (four) in Saturday’s loss to Indiana. That included 0-2 in the second half.

WORTH QUOTING: “We’ve got a bounce-back game and then a break. It’s good to have a game and hopefully go into break feeling good about ourselves.”

-Notre Dame junior guard Steve Vasturia.