How did that happen?!? Comeback gives No. 13 Notre Dame a Maui Invitational championship

NDI Staff Report
ND Insider

LAHAINA, Hawaii – They were done. Finished. Counted all but out and headed for their first loss late Wednesday in the 2017 Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship game at Lahaina Civic Center.

And then, just like that, after some serious determination on the defensive end and some serious hustling and hard work, No.14 Notre Dame was celebrating a second-straight early-season tournament championship.

With 3.3 seconds remaining and the Irish down one, senior power forward Martinas Geben sank a pair of free throws, the first bouncing around on the front and back of the rim before falling through, to help erase a 14-point deficit and stun No. 6 Wichita State, 67-66.

"I would have been shocked had Marty missed," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "He's been playing so well for us, he deserves a moment like that."

A career 63.8 percent foul shooter, Geben’s points gave the Irish their first lead since it was 4-2 barely 90 seconds in. Bonzie Colson led the Irish with 25 points and 11 rebounds, his 27th career double double. Matt Farrell added 15 points, four rebounds and four assists.

"Marty's been grinding the whole year," Colson said of his classmate. "It's great to see him show his heart and pride and make those two free throws for our program."

Notre Dame led for all of 22 seconds in the game.

"We fight," Colson said of the Irish resolve. "We give it our all every game. We stayed composed. We have confidence within our group."

Farrell was named tournament most valuable player.

"It's surreal," he said. "I wouldn't be here without my teammates."

Notre Dame improved to 6-0 with its third victory in as many days. A long flight home awaits, as does a possible spot inside the Top 10 when the national rankings are released early next week.

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly has talked often this season about his team showing grit and toughness. The Notre Dame basketball team has had it in bunches since 2014-15 and it showed again Wednesday after trailing by as many as 16 points. But the Irish kept battling, kept defending, kept believing.

"I can't say I'm surprised," Brey said. "It's a group that's won together. You can tell we have some guys who have played in big games and won together."

Still, it looked like the longest of shots for them after Shockers guard Landry Shamet made it 66-63 with 33 seconds remaining. Notre Dame looked to tie it on a Colson 3-pointer from up top, but that drew nothing but air with 19 seconds remaining.

Enter Farrell. He stole the ensuing inbound pass and found Colson for a layup to make it a one-point game with 16.7 seconds remaining.

Rex Pflueger forced a jump ball – possession to Notre Dame – with 3.3 seconds remaining. Pflueger then found Geben barreling toward the basket in an out-of-bounds under situation. Farrell was the first option. He curled through the lane but wasn't open. Colson was the next option. He also curled through the lane and wasn't open. Geben then dived hard to the hoop. Inbounding the ball, Pflueger waited for Farrell to curl. Then Colson. Then he found Geben.

Geben was fouled, went to the line and connected on both free throws. Those final points tied his career high of 12.

Pflueger then knocked the ball out of Shamet’s hands as he tried to get toward the basket just over halfcourt as time expired. Pflueger grabbed the ball at the horn and flung it to the arena rafters.

It was time for some serious celebration.

Hats and T-shirts all around.

Again.

"We've got guys who are fearless," Farrell said. "There's something special about this group."

Trailing by as many as 14 after intermission, Notre Dame was still down nine with under seven minutes remaining. But T.J. Gibbs then banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get it to six. And when Colson hit a 3 next time down, the Irish had clawed all the way back to make it a one-possession game – 62-59 – with 5:55 remaining.

It was on to game situations, where this program often is at its best.

"We knew it would come down to game situations," Colson said.

Notre Dame did it by digging in defensively, mainly working out of a 2/3 zone in the second half.

"We couldn't guard them man-to-man," Brey said. "Thank God our zone got us back in the thing."

The game tipped at 10:39 p.m. – 5:39 in Hawaii. Less than 12 game minutes in, Notre Dame already was down double digits and scrambling to stay afloat. The Irish came into the contest averaging 88 points a game and often made it look easy on the offensive end. Nothing was easy much of the night against the Shockers.

Wichita State entered Wednesday’s championship ranked No. 6. That marked the first time that Notre Dame, which started the week at No. 13 in the Associated Press poll, had played a Top 10 team in November since beating then-No. 8 Kentucky in Purcell Pavilion on Nov. 29, 2012.

Wednesday was the first time that Notre Dame faced a Top 10 opponent at a neutral site so early in the year since the previous time it played for a Maui title in 2008 against then-No. 1 North Carolina.

Halfway through the first half and the Irish had as many turnovers (four) as baskets. Never a good sign. Notre Dame trailed by as many as 16 and was down by 14 at the break. Gibbs, who scored a career-high 26 points the previous night, was scoreless in the first half.

Wichita State busted this one way open with its defense. Much like West Virginia did last March in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Wichita State kept pushing Notre Dame further and further out toward halfcourt before initiating any semblance of offense.

The frustration on the faces of Colson and Farrell started to show late in the first half. Open shots weren’t there. Driving lanes weren’t there. Second shots? A rumor. It was going to be a long, long, long climb back in the second half if Notre Dame was going to haul home some championship hardware.

Climb complete.

Wednesday was the third time that Brey coached against Gregg Marshall. The two met in the 2007 NCAA Tournament when Marshall was still at Winthrop and won the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game. In 2015, Notre Dame took apart Wichita State in an Elite Eight semifinal in Cleveland. The Irish were never truly threatened that night and led by as many as 19 before winning by 11.

Two nights later, Notre Dame lost to Kentucky a regional final in a contest still considered by many as one of the best tournament games ever played.

As was the case the first two nights, Brey stayed with his ultra-casual/cool sideline wardrobe of a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He didn’t pack pants for the team’s week-long stay on the island.

After wearing blue uniforms as the visiting team the first two nights, which included Tuesday’s 39-point shredding of LSU in the semifinals, Notre Dame was the designated home team and wore its white uniforms for the championship.

The Irish opened tournament play with a 27-point victory over host Chaminade. Wichita State erased an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat California in its tourney opener before a semifinal victory over Marquette.

The Irish traveling party will spend much of Thanksgiving day/night making its way back to the mainland before arriving back on campus early Friday morning. Notre Dame has the next seven days away from game action before jumping back into work in a big way. Notre Dame is off before a Nov. 30 visit to No. 4 Michigan State to wrap the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Notre Dame basketball team celebrates after defeating Wichita State 67-66 for the Maui Invitational championship on Wednesday in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

No. 13 NOTRE DAME 67, No. 6 WICHITA STATE 66

At Lahaina, Hawaii

Late Wednesday

WICHITA ST. (66): Kelly 2-4 2-2 6, Z.Brown 5-6 0-0 14, Morris 3-6 2-2 8, Frankamp 5-12 0-0 12, Shamet 5-11 0-0 10, Willis 3-8 0-0 8, R.Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Nurger 2-6 0-0 4, Reaves 1-3 0-1 2, Haynes-Jones 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 27-59 4-5 66.

NOTRE DAME (67): Colson 9-17 6-10 25, Geben 5-5 2-2 12, Farrell 6-14 1-1 15, Gibbs 2-6 2-2 7, Pflueger 1-4 2-2 4, Torres 0-0 0-0 0, Burns 0-0 0-0 0, Mooney 1-2 0-0 2, Harvey 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 25-51 13-17 67.

Halftime--Wichita St. 37-23. 3-Point Goals--Wichita St. 8-23 (Z.Brown 4-5, Willis 2-3, Frankamp 2-7, Reaves 0-1, Haynes-Jones 0-1, Nurger 0-2, Shamet 0-4), Notre Dame 4-12 (Farrell 2-4, Gibbs 1-1, Colson 1-4, Pflueger 0-1, Harvey 0-1, Mooney 0-1). Fouled Out--Morris. Rebounds--Wichita St. 27 (Kelly 8), Notre Dame 28 (Colson 11). Assists--Wichita St. 17 (Shamet 7), Notre Dame 13 (Farrell, Gibbs 4). Total Fouls--Wichita St. 16, Notre Dame 14.