ACC Notes: Big Apple's big basketball stage no big deal for Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK – Pedestrians making their way across city sidewalks can feel the subway trains rumble underfoot.

Sirens wail regularly in the distance. Cars and trucks blare horns regardless of the hour.

Traffic crawls down many avenues morning, noon and night.

There’s a pulse, a vibe, a feel about the biggest of cities that likes to say how it doesn’t sleep. It speaks.

Loudly. Proudly.

For Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell, it tells him he’s home.

A resident of nearby New Jersey, Farrell headed back to his home area this week for the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. After spending three-plus days in the big city – the Irish are headquartered in Times Square – Farrell and No. 3 seed Notre Dame (23-8; 12-6 ACC) finally opened tournament play late Thursday against No. 6 seed Virginia (22-9; 11-7).

The stage is big. The stakes are bigger. It’s often enough to rattle even someone as stoic as Farrell. But if there’s one aspect about playing so close to home – playing in New York - that doesn’t factor into Farrell’s game its nerves.

The closer he plays to his Jersey roots, the more fans he knows that are rooting for him in the stands, the better he plays. He’s calm. He’s cool. He then delivers.

“It’s more of not feeling pressure but comfortable that you have a lot of people there and a lot of people are excited to be there,” Farrell said. “We’re excited to get there and play.

“We’ve had a lot of fun in Brooklyn.”

Barclays Center has served as the spot for Farrell’s college basketball coming-out party. Twice.

For Farrell, basketball all started for him across the river in his native New Jersey. But for Farrell at Note Dame, being a big-time contributor at the collegiate level all started for him in Brooklyn.

Last March, Farrell was the surprise/stunning starter when Notre Dame opened NCAA tournament play with a pair of victories at Barclays. Never before in his two seasons had he started for the Irish. He then started all four last postseason.

Last November, he averaged 19 points and six assists and put the stamp on the belief that this now was HIS team with victories over Colorado and Northwestern in the Legends Classic. His late-game steal, score and free throw helped the Irish capture the tournament championship.

Big stage? No big deal.

“Playing there in the past, what happened in the (NCAA) tournament, kind of the start of me playing here, that’s something that’s positive,” Farrell said. “I’m excited to be in that arena again.”

To do what? That’s easy.

“Let it rip,” Farrell said.

Conference connections

For Irish coach Mike Brey, the two worlds that have comprised his Notre Dame coaching career collided this week in New York.

For the first 13 of his 17 seasons as Irish coach, Brey worked in the Big East. For the last four, he’s worked in the ACC. Both conferences are holding their league tournaments in the New York area this week. The Big East is in midtown Manhattan at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 34th Street in Madison Square Garden. The ACC is at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in the nearby borough of Brooklyn.

Notre Dame’s hotel is eight blocks from the Garden, but Brey had no desire to take a trip down memory lane and maybe sneak down to watch teams from his old league.

Just being back in the city was enough.

“I’m excited to be back (in) New York for a conference tournament,” Brey said. “So much of our history and my experiences have been in Manhattan, in the Garden and in New York.”

Brey and the Irish have not been back to the Garden since a Dec. 21, 2013 loss to then-No. 2 Ohio State.

Brey went 10-13 lifetime in the Big East tournament. Notre Dame took a 4-2 all-time record in the ACC tournament into Thursday’s quarterfinal.

Welcoming arena

After he busted loose for 27 points on a career-best seven 3-pointers in the Feb. 18 road win against North Carolina State, Irish senior swingman V.J. Beachem proclaimed State’s PNC Arena one of his favorite gyms to shoot in.

Barclays Center also makes the tri-captain’s short list.

“Barclays is definitely in my top five,” Beachem said. “It’s got the same kind of feel as the Garden. It’s kind of dark everywhere except the court.

“I kind of like that feeling like you’re at a concern or a big-time boxing match or something like that.”

Beachem has averaged 15.2 points on 21-of-46 (45.6 percent) from the field, 9-of-23 (39.1 percent) from 3 in four career games. Last March during the NCAA tournament, he connected on all seven of his shots from the field, all four from 3, for 18 points with six rebounds in the win over Michigan. He followed two days later with 15 points and seven rebounds against Stephen F. Austin.

In November, Beachem had 17 points and seven rebounds against Colorado, 11 points and two rebounds against Northwestern.

Beachem was due for a big game Thursday against Virginia. Hounded the first time around by swingman Marial Shayok, Beachem finished 1-of-10 from the floor, 0-for-5 from 3 with three points.

Common bond

Notre Dame sophomore swingman Matt Ryan and Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome were high school teammates back at Iona Prep School in New Rochelle, N.Y.

The two also were AAU teammates with New Heights (N.Y.) during their prep careers. They also share a unique injury bond. Both underwent double-hip surgery as prep standouts.

Ryan underwent surgery after his junior season. Jerome had the surgery late in his senior season.

Ryan is averaging 3.4 points and 0.9 rebounds in 7.6 minutes over 30 games with no starts. He’s shooting 41.7 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from 3. Having stepped into more of a starring role of late, Jerome is averaging 4.0 points and 1.3 rebounds in 12.8 minutes over 30 games and three starts. Jerome made two big 3-pointers to basically break the Irish back during a 71-54 victory back in South Bend on Jan. 24.

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