Matt Farrell's rise at Notre Dame no surprise to his high school coach

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

A pair of big-time efforts by Notre Dame junior point guard Matt Farrell when the college basketball lights were bright earlier this week raised an expectation bar to heights visited by a select Irish few.

In games against Colorado and Northwestern – both Notre Dame wins – Farrell averaged 19 points, two rebounds, six assists and two steals in 33 minutes. All of it earned him tournament most valuable player honors after the Irish won the Legends Classic championship.

Farrell was a big reason – maybe the reason.

As good as he was Monday against Colorado with 20 points and six assists, both career highs, he was even better the next night against Northwestern. Farrell scored 18 points with six assists in a career-high 34 minutes. When the game was there for the taking in the closing minute, he took it.

Following a Wildcat turnover, Farrell scored on a driving circus shot, drew a foul and made a free throw with 14.7 seconds remaining to give the Irish a two-point lead. He then smothered a defensive rebound and made two free throws to seal it.

Following the layup, Farrell landed on the opposite side of the basket from where he started. He stayed seated for a few seconds and stuck out his tongue, which the cameras caught.

“Just kind of surreal, in the moment,” Farrell said afterward. “It was just fun, having fun, just being back home.

“I just play the game, try to make plays.”

Irish coach Mike Brey was asked Tuesday about the long line of point guards who have thrived under his tutelage back in South Bend. There have been plenty. Chris Thomas. Chris Quinn. Kyle McAlarney. Tory Jackson. Ben Hansbrough. Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant. Demetrius Jackson.

Grant and Jackson both were in Farrell's ear the last two years when he rarely saw the floor. His time would come, both kept reassuring him. He just needed to stay aggressive and play his game.

Now here's Farrell, the sure and steady New Jersey native flourishing early in his first season as the guy who makes it all go. Being aggressive. Playing his game. Thriving.

“I've had some real good ones,” Brey said at Barclays Center. “When it's all said and done, now everybody saw it nationally, he'll be there with any of them.”

Point Pleasant Beach (N.J.) High School coach Nick Catania wasn't surprised to hear such high praise of his former star player. When Farrell was being recruited to Notre Dame late in his senior season – he had verbally committed to Boston College but reopened his recruitment during the fall of his senior season – he was often compared to McAlarney, the former Staten Island schoolboy standout. The two even talked about how Farrell might develop should he wind up at Notre Dame.

Catania hasn't followed Irish basketball that closely to judge where the 6-foot-1, 178-pound Farrell might stand when his college career ends. But he knows what he has in his former player. A lot.

“When it's all said and done, yeah, you can mention his name along with some of the best guards who've ever played for Notre Dame,” Catania said Wednesday. “He doesn't play for stats; he plays to win.

“Whatever it takes, he's going to do it.”

Notre Dame (5-0) is off to its best start since 2010 when it was led by Hansbrough, the eventual Big East player of the year. The Irish return to action Saturday at home (7 p.m.) against Chicago State.

Farrell is averaging career highs in almost every category be it points (12.6), assists (5.0) or minutes (28.0). He's 23 points shy of matching the total number scored in his first two seasons combined. Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, Farrell led the Atlantic Coast Conference in free throw shooting (100 percent, 13-of-13), was tied for fourth in steals (2.0) and assist/turnover ratio (5.0) and tied for fifth in assists (5.0).

He's seemingly getting more confident by the minute.

Watching Farrell work in Brooklyn, Catania felt he was 65 miles away back at Point Pleasant Beach. The way Farrell took over in the closing seconds. The way he made big plays when big plays were needed. And the way he dusted off his fade-away 3-pointer that he connected on in front of the Colorado bench during Monday's first half.

Same went for the pull-up jumper that Farrell unleashed this week for maybe the first time since he was wreaking havoc on opposing defenses back in high school.

As good as Farrell's been, Catania believes he's only going to be better. At everything.

“There are some things that you haven't even seen him do yet that he's going to get to,” he said. “He's a winner.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (5-0) vs. Chicago State (2-2).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Saturday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Plenty available.

TV: None.

INTERNET: Watch ACC Network.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM), joined in progress following conclusion of Notre Dame-USC football game.

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

NOTING: This game may be listed on some tickets as a 2 p.m. start. It tips at 7. … Senior wing Trayvon Palmer scored 34 points with 15 rebounds and sophomore guard Fred Sims Jr., added 21 points and six rebounds in Chicago State’s 103-75 home victory Tuesday over East-West University. The Cougars shot 58.2 percent from the field … Chicago State also has a win over Division III Illinois Tech with losses to Oakland and Wisconsin. … This is the first of 12 straight games away from home for the Cougars, who are on the road until Jan. 5. … Chicago State was picked in preseason to finish eighth in the eight-team Western Athletic Conference. … Three starters and 10 players overall return off last year’s team that finished 4-28, 0-14 in the WAC. … The Cougars have won a combined 40 games the last four years with an average Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 319.8. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 3-0. The last meeting was a 90-42 Irish victory on Nov. 29, 2014. … Notre Dame capped a run of four games in seven days Tuesday with a 70-66 victory over Northwestern in the Legends Classic championship at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. … Steve Vasturia scored 18 points to give him 1,000 for his career.

QUOTING: “The past two games, he’s been awesome.”

• Notre Dame senior captain Steve Vasturia on junior guard Matt Farrell.