Notre Dame comes up a couple shots short in ACC title game loss to Duke

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK – The long, lonely walk off the floor said it all.

Senior captain V.J., Beachem bit the corner of his green jersey and left alone. Matt Farrell followed, rubbing the back of his head seemingly fighting off tears. Steve Vasturia was next, grimacing and massaging his side.

Finally, it was power forward Bonzie Colson, who did as much as he could, and then a whole lot more, who raised his hands above his head and exhaled.

This hurt. As blue and white confetti rained down from the Barclays Center ceiling, the Irish (25-9) wandered away. Empty-handed. Gut-punched. One win short of their Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament goal.

Second place isn't good enough. Not for these guys. But it was all they'd haul back to Indiana following a 75-69 loss to No. 5 seed Duke in the ACC Championship game that went the full 15 rounds.

“It was a great game,” said Colson, who led everyone with 29 points. “We played hard; they played hard. It came down to getting some stops. They hit big shots when they needed to.”

Especially Jayson Tatum, who busted loose for 19 points, including seven in the final 2:34. Matt Jones also added a big 3 to put the Devils up four with 48 seconds remaining.

Colson rolled his right ankle with just over eight minutes remaining and the Irish up three. His final basket - a straight-away 3 - tied it at 65 with 2:25 remaining.

“It's fine,” he said afterward with his ankle elevated and on ice. “Just a little tweak. I was still good. I was locked in; we all were locked in.”

The Irish managed only one field goal after Colson's big bucket.

This one – this championship – was going to turn on game situations. Much like so many conference contests this season. Notre Dame trailed by one, 63-62, with 3:14 remaining. The Irish had made their run; the Blue Devils countered with one of their own. Who would find a way to finish?

“We knew it was going to come down to game situations,” Colson said. “They hit big shots. Tough one for us.”

Up by three and trying to weather a Duke run, Notre Dame lost Colson when he fell to the floor with 8:10 to go while trying to tip back a missed shot. Colson clutched his right ankle, left the game and headed down the tunnel with the trainer and team doctor. He walked back into the huddle at the under-eight timeout with no obvious sign of discomfort.

This was no time for anything to hurt. That could wait until summer.

Up by eight with 11 minutes left, Notre Dame had a chance to make it even more. The Irish had three really good looks from 3 – one by Farrell and two by Beachem – that looked right on line, but didn't fall.

After the third, coach Mike Brey offered hand slaps to his guys going into a timeout. He smiled knowing that if those shots fall, everything changes in a big way for the guys in green.

“We got are usual great looks,” Beachem said. “We just didn't knock them down.”

“That's how we play,” Farrell said. “We've got to make those shots. We missed some open ones.”

Notre Dame shot 40.3 percent from the floor, 24 percent from 3.

Notre Dame started to get some serious separation and flow going after a back-and-forth start to the half. Much of that – OK, all of that – came thanks to Colson who started doing major work in the post. He scored eight straight points to bump the Irish up by five with 12:52 remaining. The whole pulse of the building changed. The Notre Dame section got really loud, Duke's really quiet.

And when Beachem delivered a follow dunk off a Colson miss following a scrambled sequence, Notre Dame was up seven with 12:35 remaining.

The Irish were starting to feel it. Sense it. Smell it.

Everybody in the Irish fan section behind the bench was standing — and there still was a long way to go.

“We found our rhythm offensively,” Farrell said. "We were moving them well, coming off ball screens hard and just attacking them off the dribble. We played well enough to win the game.”

The Irish led by eight with 11:35 to go following another Beachem dunk.

“It's a tough one to swallow,” Colson said. “We've got to move on quick.”

Battling uphill for most of the first half, the Irish opened the second half by doing what got them to Saturday night. Notre Dame opened with the first four points of the period to tie it at 38. And when Rex Pflueger knocked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the Irish had their first lead at 41-40 with 17:11 remaining.

From there, it was a tennis match as the teams traded baskets – two each – in a picked-up pace. Who would have the fresher legs down the stretch?

“We fought adversity, stayed together,” Colson said. “We played them great.”

Notre Dame's late-season work – the Irish won eight of their last 10 — may be enough to keep them relatively close to home for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame had long been positioned in various tournament brackets as a No. 5 seed with early destinations in Buffalo, N.Y. or Orlando, Fla. In the last few days, that destination has shifted to Milwaukee – approximately a three-hour drive – with the Irish quite possibly earning a No. 4 seed – their highest since getting a No. 3 seed in 2015 after winning the ACC Championship.

Under NCAA travel regulations, Notre Dame would bus to Milwaukee.

Heading into Championship Saturday, Notre Dame carried a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 21, a Strength of Schedule (SOS) of 40 and a Basketball Power Index (BPI) of 22 in the latest numbers provided on ESPN.com.

DUKE (27-8): Jayson Tatum 7-11 5-7 19, Amile Jefferson 7-8 0-1 14, Frank Jackson 4-6 0-0 9, Luke Kennard 6-13 2-3 16, Matt Jones 1-2 0-0 3, Harry Giles 2-2 0-0 4, Grayson Allen 4-9 1-1 10. Totals 31-51 8-12 75.

NOTRE DAME (25-9): V.J. Beachem 6-14 2-2 15, Bonzie Colson 12-21 3-5 29, Rex Pflueger 2-6 0-0 5, Matt Farrell 5-12 2-3 13, Steve Vasturia 2-9 0-0 5, Austin Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Ryan 0-4 2-2 2, T.J. Gibbs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-67 9-12 69.

Halftime--Duke 38-34. 3-Point Goals--Duke 5-15 (Kennard 2-5, Jackson 1-1, Jones 1-2, Allen 1-5, Tatum 0-2), Notre Dame 6-25 (Colson 2-3, Pflueger 1-2, Vasturia 1-5, Beachem 1-6, Farrell 1-6, Ryan 0-3). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Duke 29 (Tatum 8), Notre Dame 27 (Colson 9). Assists--Duke 11 (Allen 4), Notre Dame 12 (Farrell 7). Total Fouls--Duke 14, Notre Dame 14.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

Notre Dame players react on the bench in the closing minute of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke during the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in New York. Duke won 75-69. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)