Stunner! Last-second shot allows Ball State to bounce No. 9 Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Get it to overtime and maybe, just maybe, No. 9 Notre Dame finally would get its game in a winning basketball gear.

Get it to overtime and maybe, just maybe, all the problems the Irish have had since winning the Maui Jim Maui Invitational last month would be swept out into a cold Tuesday night.

Get it to overtime and maybe, just maybe, a team that some picked this season to win the Atlantic Coast Conference would figure out a way to beat a Mid-American Conference team that refused to fold.

Get it to overtime and maybe, just maybe, an Irish team that spent the better part of the first 39 minutes knocked so collectively and convincingly back on their heels, would figure out a way to fight and steal one in their own Purcell Pavilion gym.

Just get it to overtime. ...

Ball State guard Tayler Persons had other ideas. He delivered a wing 3-pointer of the ultimate dagger variety with 1.7 seconds remaining to hand Notre Dame its first non-league home loss, 80-77, since North Dakota State did so in similarly dominating fashion in 2013.

"I was just thinking last play, I've got to get a good shot," said Persons, who scored a team-high 24 points. "I just kind of made a play. We were there and it was anybody's game and we won."

It was stunning, surreal and somewhat staggering for the Irish.

"Another reality check of who we are," said senior power forward Bonzie Colson, who wasted a game-high 26 points. "We've been praised so it's good to be knocked down and continue to grow and search for who we are."

And who are they?

"We're going to find out," Colson said.

Two weeks after donning championship hats and T-shirts and bringing back a whole lot of happiness and a trophy from Hawaii that fans could have their picture taken with at halftime, Notre Dame was left to pick up some serious pieces. Eight days after rocketing to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll after a 6-0 start, the Irish (7-2) have lost two of three and likely will free-fall through the rest of the Top 25 when the new polls arrive Monday.

And, possibly, out of the Top 25 altogether. That's fine. Time, coach Mike Brey said, for this team to be poor again. To play poor. To find some hunger after all the early-season success.

Maui feels like a lifetime ago.

"This one sucks, it really does," said senior guard Matt Farrell.

What's missing from this Irish outfit since Hawaii?

"I don't know," Brey said. "We haven't been very good since we've been back. We really haven't. We've got some work to do here before we go and play again.

"I can't put my finger on it."

Is fatigue an issue?

"We're not tired," Farrell said. "We're ready to go. We're not tired."

As for what's been missing, where should Farrell start?

"We're not making a lot of shots; we're missing a lot of open shots; we're missing free throws," he said. "We're not executing the way we can. We've got to get back to Notre Dame basketball.

"We've got to find ways to get better."

That was a statement many expected sometime in January. or February. Not early December. Not after a home game. Not from this group. But here they are. Wondering. Maybe even worrying after getting so thoroughly outplayed for the second time in three games. After getting worked to the tune of (-16) in the rebounding department. After allowing 13 offensive rebounds that the Cardinals turned into 14 second-chance/crusher points.

"They wanted it more," Colson said. "This was a big game for them."

The sense of urgency for the Irish? Non-existent.

Consider: Notre Dame shot a sizzling 59.3 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from 3 in the second half, and still it wasn't anywhere nearly enough. The Irish had to shoot that well just to avoid being blown out.

Even as the Irish erased a nine-point deficit and got back within a one-possession game, it reached a point where every shot - like the last one, especially the last one - just seem like it was going to fall for the other guys.

"That's a good team," Farrell said.

When a winning play needed to be made, the Irish rarely made one.

"It shouldn't happen," said senior power forward Martinas Geben. "We didn't play well enough. That's a cold shower for us. We need to get back to work and be better."

An Irish team that played with nary a hint of desperation for much of the night finally was forced to deal with it with 6:49 remaining. That's when Ball State extended its lead to a game-high nine points. Every time Notre Dame looked poised to pull away, it was the other guys, the guys in red, the guys who were confident and carefree and really wining it, had an answer.

They just kept coming. The Irish? Kept retreating. Kept allowing it to be too easy for the opponent.

"Things that shouldn't happen from a veteran group like ours," Geben said.

Until Farrell showed some fight. He scored seven quick points to make it a one-possession game. But Ball State had answers. His 3 with 19.8 seconds remaining tied it at 77. But again, more answers from the other guys. Namely Persons.

Farrell finished with 14 points, 12 coming the final 5:23. But it was a little too late for him. And for the Irish. He was too much of a non-factor the other 35 minutes. Farrell had a lot of company in that department, be it sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs (six points), or D.J. Harvey (no points while yo-yoing in and out of the lineup) or sophomore power forward Elijah Burns (DNP-CD).

Brey tried a plethora of mix-and-match lineup combinations. None of them ever did click. Because of it, Ball State joined fellow MAC schools Central Michigan (2003) and Miami (Ohio) (2000) as teams that have celebrated wins in South Bend.

While they did that, the Irish were again left to figure out how it all went so wrong. Didn't have many answers last week in East Lansing. Had fewer on Tuesday.

Better some find some. Fast. And not through any locker-room strategy sessions. Trailing by five at the break, the Irish were back from the locker room more than six minutes before the start of the second half. There simply wasn't much left for anyone to say back in the locker room.

Forget talking about playing better and being better.

"We can only do so much talking," Geben said. "We have to go out there and do it. We show for flashes we can do it."


At Purcell Pavilion

BALL ST. (5-4): Kyle Mallers 3-9 0-0 8, Tahjai Teague 5-9 3-4 13, Tayler Persons 10-19 2-2 24, Jontrell Walker 1-5 0-0 2, Sean Sellers 3-7 4-4 11, Zach Gunn 0-3 0-0 0, Trey Moses 3-3 3-3 9, Francis Kiapway 1-2 0-0 3, Ishmael El-Amin 1-3 0-0 2, jeremie Tyler 2-3 2-3 8. Totals 29-63 14-16 80.

NOTRE DAME (7-2): Martinas Geben 4-8 4-4 12, Bonzie Colson 10-19 6-9 26, T.J. Gibbs 2-6 3-6 8, Rex Pflueger 4-8 1-1 11, Matt Farrell 4-9 4-4 14, John Mooney 2-3 1-2 6, Austin Torres 0-0 0-0 0, D.J. Harvey 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 19-26 77.

Halftime--Ball St. 34-29. 3-Point Goals--Ball St. 8-24 (Tyler 2-2, Persons 2-5, Mallers 2-6, Kiapway 1-2, Sellers 1-5, El-Amin 0-1, Walker 0-3), Notre Dame 6-17 (Pflueger 2-4, Farrell 2-4, Mooney 1-2, Gibbs 1-3, Colson 0-4). Fouled Out--Tyler, Teague. Rebounds--Ball St. 36 (Teague 8), Notre Dame 24 (Mooney 7). Assists--Ball St. 12 (Persons, Sellers 3), Notre Dame 16 (Farrell 8). Total Fouls--Ball St. 21, Notre Dame 13. A--8,891 (9,149).

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Notre Dame's Matt Farrell (5) reacts after being fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ball State Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. Ball State beat Notre Dame 80-77. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)