Notebook: Notre Dame's Matt Farrell ready when call came

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — Seated at a table all his own on the main concourse of Wells Fargo Center late Saturday afternoon was the last place many expected Notre Dame sophomore guard Matt Farrell to be.

Including Matt Farrell.

For a good chunk of February, Farrell racked up DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision) the way an accountant culls new clients during tax season. But come NCAA Tournament time, Farrell found himself as a starter for the first time in his collegiate career.

Farrell has started all three NCAA games heading into Sunday’s East Region championship between No. 6 Notre Dame (24-11) and top seed North Carolina (31-6).

That’s why Farrell was summoned to the concourse. The off-day NCAA media availability window mandates that all five starters from each team conduct 15 minutes of interviews in their own breakout "rooms." So there was Farrell, fielding questions just like the rest of the Irish regulars.

“I didn’t know this was a thing until now,” Farrell joked. “It’s been crazy. Just enjoying the ride and enjoying the people I’m doing it with.”

It all was so surreal for Farrell, who scored five points with four assists in his first start against Michigan, logged a career-high 31 minutes two days later against Stephen F. Austin and delivered seven points (all in the first half) Friday against Wisconsin.

Farrell has played 97 minutes in the three NCAA games. He played a total of 60 with seven DNP-CDs during Atlantic Coast Conference play.

“It’s just a testimony to the people that I’m around every day — the coaches, my teammates,” Farrell said. “Just keep working on your game, having the right attitude, just be ready when your number is called.”

And stay ready when it’s not. Farrell was a key guy in the rotation earlier in the year. He logged double figures for minutes in 11 of the first 12 games, including 23 with a career-high 10 points in the Dec. 2 win at Illinois. But his steady minutes slipped in league play as freshmen Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan carved out larger roles. Farrell admitted it wasn’t always easy.

When another ball handler was needed in the lineup, Farrell got the call and delivered.

“It’s been a blessing,” he said. “It’s all happening really fast.”

Not so fast that the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Farrell hasn’t settled down to make a difference. His seven points Friday were huge when Notre Dame couldn’t get anyone in an offensive rhythm. And he’s helped Jackson jump quicker into attack mode by being able to initiate the offense.

“He’s been huge,” Jackson said. “It’s been fun playing with him. He plays with an edge and people don’t want to play against him.”

Double-double duo

Nobody knows what the next 40 minutes of basketball will hold Sunday for North Carolina or Notre Dame, though this much is understood — Irish power forward Zach Auguste and Tar Heel big man Brice Johnson each likely will finish with double-doubles for points and rebounds.

Auguste and Johnson enter Sunday’s regional championship each with 22 double doubles, tied for second in the nation. Auguste has hit for at least 10 points and 10 rebounds the last three games and eight of the last nine. He has 26 for his career.

“He’s a workhorse, a warrior down there,” Johnson said. “He goes hard to glass, throws his body in there. He can really change the momentum of a game.”

Johnson has a double double in each of his last two games and five of the last eight. His 22 double doubles ties the school record held by Billy Cunningham. Johnson has 32 for his career.

“He has a lot of weapons, man,” Auguste said. “His athleticism is through the roof. He can out-jump a lot of us. He can do a lot of different things and it’s hard to guard him with his length.”

Both went double-double Friday. Auguste finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Wisconsin while Johnson had 21 and 10 in the win over Indiana.

Auguste was a second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection; Johnson a first team pick.

On the mend

The “beep!, beep!, beep!” of a golf cart cruising through an underbelly concourse of Wells Fargo Center late Saturday afternoon was a sure sign that Irish coach Mike Brey had arrived for Notre Dame’s press conference.

Brey needed help getting around while hobbled by a slight tear in his right calf muscle. He suffered the injury during the second half of Friday’s game against Wisconsin after getting a bit too animated over the action.

Brey wore a walking boot Saturday and wasn’t sure if he would do so again for Sunday’s game. If it was up to him, he wouldn’t. If it was up to team doctor, Michael Yergler, he might.

“I’m fine,” Brey said. “Maybe I just need a seat belt on the bench. I’ve got to remember I’m not the 41-year-old guy who got the job in 2000.

“I need to sit down more.”

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Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell (5) lands on the TV table during a save attempt in the Notre Dame-Wisconsin NCAA Sweet 16 Regional Semifinal game on Friday night in Philadelphia. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)