No. 5 Notre Dame comes up empty against high-powered and No. 3 Michigan State

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Get it to game situations late in the second half of Thursday’s game and No. 5 Notre Dame liked its chances at some more road success.

Happened rather easily through the first five games of the season. Happened in the sixth when the Irish stole a Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship in the closing seconds on Thanksgiving Eve.

Never happened against No. 3 Michigan State in a sold-out Breslin Center, a place the Irish had never before played. Dominant in every area from the start, the Spartans shrugged off another determined Irish run in the second half and pulled away for an 81-63 victory in the finale game — the marquee game — of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Junior guard Rex Pflueger scored a career-high 15 points. Bonzie Colson had 17 points and six rebounds, but was 6-of-19 from the field. The Irish were out-rebounded, 42-21.

Notre Dame (6-1) never could get it within two possessions in the second half. Michigan State (6-1) always was there with a big shot. A big rebound. A big defensive stand.

Down by as many as 22 early, Notre Dame got within seven following a Matt Farrell fade jumper in the lane with 13:09 remaining. Less than two minutes later, the Spartan lead was back into double digits at 11. That's the way it went. From 12 to nine, back to 13, down to 10, then up again to 15. Then back to 20. It was not an enjoyable evening for the Irish.

A Farrell step-back 3 from the wing brought the Irish within 10 with 16:43 remaining. It marked the 31st straight game dating back to last season that Farrell has made at least one 3 in a game. That leads all players in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

And when Bonzie Colson hit a fade jumper from the baseline next time down, Notre Dame was back within single digits — 48-40. Time for the big home crowd to get a little uneasy. The Irish? They were closing. Quickly. They just couldn't get enough stops to make it really interesting.

Notre Dame came into Thursday having won its previous three Big Ten/ACC Challenge games – Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa. This one was never close.

This one got ugly early. Like right after the tip early. Everything the Irish wanted to do on both ends — be efficient on offense, determined on defense — went out the window within minutes. Michigan State scored the first five points, got some more easy looks in transition, crashed the glass and opened a double-digit lead barely five minutes in.

Michigan State hit 12 of its first 17 shots for a sizzling 70.6 percent. Notre Dame never could get into any flow. Its best offense came on long — really long — looks from 3.

Michigan State attacked in waves; Notre Dame was holding on for its collective life. While the Spartans substituted freely, Notre Dame had to ride it out with its starters to keep this one from getting really out of hand. Less than halfway through the first half, the Irish were already down 20 (31-11).

It got to a point where the Irish would feel fortunate if they could keep it to within 10 points by intermission. Then 15. Then 20.

Michigan State led by as many as 22 in a first half where it never trailed. By the time the halftime horn finally sounded, it was Michigan State 46, Notre Dame 26. It was the most points allowed and second fewest scored for the Irish this season. Notre Dame managed only 23 last week against then-No. 6 Wichita State.

This wasn’t Wichita State.

Michigan State’s M.O. isn’t a secret — get on the glass and stay there. On offense. On defense. From start to finish. Halfway through this one, the Irish had been outrebounded 24-11.

Thursday was Notre Dame’s first game since beating Wichita State on Thanksgiving Eve out in Maui. Sliding a gimmie-home game between that one and Thursday’s ultimate road test would have been nice, but unrealistic.

As part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, schools from both leagues are instructed to keep the entire Monday-through-Thursday slate free from games. The Challenge schedule was finalized by ESPN only after teams had already finished their non-league schedules, which left open the possibility that Notre Dame could have played on either of the previous three nights.

As it turned out, ESPN wanted this one on its own night. In prime time. Nobody knew it would be No. 3 vs. No. 5. Just turned out that way, and people likely would tune in.

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Notre Dame’s Martinas Geben (23) dunks as Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. (2) defends him during the Notre Dame at Michigan State NCAA men’s basketball game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

No. 3 MICHIGAN ST. 81, No. 5 NOTRE DAME 63

At East Lansing, Mich.

NOTRE DAME (63): Martinas Geben 3-4 2-2 8, Bonzie Colson 6-19 4-4 17, Rex Pflueger 6-7 0-0 15, Matt Farrell 4-8 0-0 10, T.J. Gibbs 4-11 1-4 11, Austin Torres 1-1 0-0 2, Matt Gregory 0-0 0-0 0, John Mooney 0-0 0-0 0, Elijah Burns 0-1 0-0 0, Nik Djogo 0-0 0-0 0, D.J. Harvey 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 7-10 63.

MICHIGAN ST. (81): Jaren Jackson 2-5 0-0 5, Nick Ward 4-6 4-4 12, Joshua Langford 7-13 2-2 17, Cassius Winston 6-10 0-0 17, Miles Bridges 6-15 1-2 14, Xavier Tillman 1-3 1-2 3, Kenny Goins 0-1 0-0 0, Ben Carter 1-1 0-2 2, Gavin Schilling 1-1 0-0 2, Tum Tum Nairn 0-0 0-0 0, Matt McQuaid 3-5 2-2 9. Totals 31-60 10-14 81.

Halftime--Michigan St. 46-26. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 8-18 (Pflueger 3-4, Gibbs 2-4, Farrell 2-5, Colson 1-4, Harvey 0-1), Michigan St. 9-21 (Winston 5-6, Langford 1-2, McQuaid 1-3, Jackson 1-3, Bridges 1-7). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 18 (Colson 6), Michigan St. 39 (Bridges 6). Assists--Notre Dame 16 (Farrell 7), Michigan St. 21 (Winston 7). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 15, Michigan St. 14. A--14,797 (16,280).