Matt Farrell, Notre Dame men aim to be better with ball vs. Florida State

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Tossed the keys to the Notre Dame car in the spring, junior point guard Matt Farrell takes immense pride in making sure everything about the machine runs smoothly.

Farrell has handled the transition to full-time starter with relative ease. He’s navigated rush-hour traffic. He’s parallel parked. He’s kept the gas tank full, the oil level balanced, the windshield wiper level filled. The driver distractions have been minimal, though the shocks have been tested with a few bumps along the way.

Win or lose, Farrell is quick to drive right into the next play, the next game, the next challenge.

But as the Irish have traveled deeper into a college basketball regular season that has only three weeks remaining, Farrell still steals a glance or in the rear-view mirror at a game, a moment, a memory 24 days in the past.

The second Atlantic Coast Conference matchup between Notre Dame (18-7; 7-5) and No. 14 Florida State (21-4; 9-3) arrives Saturday night at sold-out Purcell Pavilion. Any additional Irish motivation for this one can be traced back to the evening of Jan. 18 in Tallahassee.

Notre Dame arrived winners of its first five league games. The Irish were in first place and feeling good about their game having won their first three on the road.

Certainly they could get No. 4. But the Seminoles put an end to those plans with an 83-80 victory, and did so by getting after the guy who makes it all go.

They rattled the usually solid Farrell into a frustrating game.

Job One for Farrell – for any point guard that plays for Mike Brey – is to take care of the ball. But that night against the Seminoles’ suffocating pressure, Farrell played the part of unsure rookie instead of steady veteran. He stepped out of bounds while dribbling past pressure. He threw it away. He couldn’t get the Irish into their offensive sets early. He finished with a career-high six turnovers.

Farrell could hang big numbers in the assists and points column, but the first one he checks without fail after every game is turnovers. The higher number, the higher his aggravation meter. He knows he’s going to hear about it. From dad. From his coach. From himself.

Be better.

“Turnovers are not good, especially for Coach Brey,” Farrell said. “That’s the guy who thinks the ball is gold. I like to think the same way.”

Four minutes into a forgettable first half, the Irish had four turnovers. They had five at the five-minute mark. Six at the six. By the time the first 20 minutes were over, they had 12 turnovers on their way to a season-high 18.

That number, Farrell would say in the days that followed, fell on him.

“We turned the ball over way too much in the first half,” Farrell said. “We were kind of just running around and they were pushing us out of our sets. We can’t have that happen again.”

All those miscues still stick with the Irish.

“Eighteen turnovers is something we don’t see hardly ever,” Brey said. “That just broke our back. Our guys are embarrassed about that and know we have to be better with it.”

Like in that second half. The Irish settled down, settled on a lineup that included an extra handler (either freshman T.J. Gibbs or sophomore Rex Pflueger) to help Farrell deal with pressure, and settled into a rhythm that saw them shoot 46.9 percent from the field, a ridiculous 75 percent from 3 and score 47 points.

More pressure awaits from the Seminoles, who will run waves of long and active bodies at them. They don’t make it easy on many opponents.

“They,” Brey said, “kind of take your spirit defensively.”

But if they can keep from getting rattled, the Irish are going to get some good looks. Open looks.

“We figured out some ways to crack their code,” said Gibbs, who scored 12 points in 25 minutes the first time around and figures to again play a big role. “We know we can go against their defense. Now we just have to do it for 40 minutes instead of 20.”

Notre Dame’s perimeter-heavy offense may have found its groove. Over the last three second halves, the Irish have scored 49 (Duke), 42 (North Carolina) and 52 (Wake Forest) points. They’ve flowed better. The ball and the guys on the floor have moved.

It has to be more of the same against the Seminoles, who will park a defender or two around the lane and dare the Irish to finish at the rim. But they don’t have to. They’ll drive it and kick, then reverse it, and make another pass to the open man.

They did that last month on the road. Now can they do it again in their place?

“It’s not like we were rushed or rattled in the second half by their defense,” said senior captain Steve Vasturia, who scored a team-high 18 points that night. “They challenge shots, but if we do what we do on the offensive end, we’re going to have a chance to win the game.”

That chance begins with Farrell, who’s been waiting on this second one.

“We felt that was a game we could have won if we didn’t turn the ball over that much,” he said. “This is a game we can get. It should be really fun.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (18-7 overall; 7-5 ACC) vs. No. 14 Florida State (21-4; 9-3).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Saturday at 6 p.m.

TICKETS: The game is a sellout.

TV: ESPN.

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.

NOTING: Many tickets have this game as a 2 p.m. tip. The start time was pushed back to 6 last month. … Freshman forward Jonathan Isaac had 21 points with seven rebounds and Dwayne Bacon added 19 points and nine rebounds to lead Florida State to a 95-71 home victory Wednesday over North Carolina State. The Seminoles finished with a 49-25 rebounding advantage. … Florida State has won three in a row by an average of 30 points and five of seven. … Eleven players average at least 10.3 minutes per game; only three score double figures led by Bacon (17.6). … The Seminoles already have more league wins than they did each of the last two years, when they finished 8-10. … Florida State has been ranked as high as No. 6 this season. … This starts a league stretch of four of the next five on the road for the Seminoles, who are 2-3 away from home in league play. … Steve Vasturia scored 18 points and Matt Farrell added 17 in an 83-80 loss Jan. 18 in Tallahassee. The Irish shot 46.6 percent from the field, 71.4 percent (15-for-21) from 3. They scored 47 points in the second half. … This is the third game of the week for both teams. Notre Dame lost Sunday to North Carolina before beating Wake Forest at home on Tuesday. Florida State also won by 48 Sunday at home over Clemson. … The Seminoles lead the series 4-1. Notre Dame is 1-0 in South Bend. … This is the fifth sellout of the season for Notre Dame, all in league play. The Irish are 2-2 in home sellouts with wins over Clemson and Syracuse and losses to Duke and Virginia. … Notre Dame is 1-6 against ranked teams with four straight losses since a win over Louisville.

QUOTING: “They’re bigger, longer, more athletic. It’s a good challenge for us. We’re ready for that challenge.”

• Irish power forward Bonzie Colson on Florida State.