Another Crossroads collapse: Notre Dame making a habit of heartache in Indy

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — Nobody collapses in the Crossroads Classic quite like Notre Dame.

Like last year, when the Irish squandered a 14-point halftime lead in a 86-81 loss to Purdue.

Or the year before, when Mike Brey’s team led Indiana by 16 with barely 15 minutes remaining … and lost by seven.

The question, as No. 18 Notre Dame (8-3) clung desperately onto a fleeting lead inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, didn’t seem to be if … but how.

Well, here’s how.

With 2:01 remaining in the second half of an eventual 80-77 overtime loss, Irish guard T.J. Gibbs muscled a layup through contact to give his team a 65-57 lead. The 6-foot-3 sophomore landed and released a guttural growl, simultaneously expelling two years of Notre Dame’s collective demons.

Or, maybe not.

Indiana forward Juwan Morgan answered with a singlehanded 8-0 run, tying the game with a layup with 13 seconds left. The 6-8, 230-pound junior finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes, connecting on 13 of 17 field goal attempts.

“God, did he beat us up,” a weathered Brey said after the game. “He was fabulous.”

Morgan provided a valiant effort, but it shouldn’t have been enough.

That’s because, with 0.8 seconds left in the second half, Notre Dame senior point guard Matt Farrell found a cutting Austin Torres, who was fouled while attempting a layup in a tie game.

That’s Torres, the Granger native, an Indiana kid with an opportunity to dramatically down the state school in the final seconds.

That’s Torres, the wildly inconsistent shooter, who had missed his only two free throw attempts this season and hit just 42.5 percent of them in his more-than-three-year Irish career.

That’s Torres, the rarely used reserve, who checked into the game for the first time with 21 seconds left.

That’s Torres, the offensive liability. Why was Torres on the floor?

“We have faith in him,” Brey said. “He’s a defender and a veteran guy who I thought would be good getting out on (Indiana forward Collin) Hartman. He’s quick that way.

“The problem is it comes to the other end of the floor and then he’s in there offensively. But I still like him in game situations, because he’s so active defensively.”

Well, defense aside, Torres predictably clanked both free throws, to the delirious delight of the red-clad Indiana fans drowning out the Irish minority. After his second offering bounced feebly off the side of the rim and time expired, the graduate student forward stood at the free throw line, frozen, before untucking his jersey and drifting solemnly to the bench.

The game wasn’t over, even if it felt that way.

“Move on,” Farrell said, when asked about his message to Torres prior to overtime. “We can’t dwell on it. It is what it is. You can’t dwell on the past.

“We told him to move on. We told him we love him. It’s not why we lost.”

Farrell’s right, because Torres’ misses aren’t the reason the Irish lost.

Not the only reason, at least.

With 20 seconds left in overtime, on the heels of two Gibbs free throws, Notre Dame held a 77-74 lead. The Irish were gifted another opportunity to finish.

Instead, they turned in another collapse.

With 11 seconds left, Morgan dropped in a layup while being inexplicably fouled by Farrell, who slid under the forward late in an attempt to draw a charge. Morgan missed the ensuing free throw, but 6-foot-6 Indiana forward Zach McRoberts out-leaped Notre Dame’s 6-6 Bonzie Colson for the offensive rebound, then fed Morgan for a go-ahead two-handed jam.

Trailing 78-77, a desperate Farrell 3-point attempt was blocked. Hoosier guard Devonte Green poured in two more free throws, which gave the Irish the ball back with a shade over two seconds left.

That was enough time for Colson, with an 80-77 deficit, to corral a pass, square his shoulders, settle just before the half-court stripe and release what looked like a game-tying shot.

The basketball flirted with both sides of the rim, then fell harmlessly to the floor.

So did Colson. As the buzzer sounded and the Hoosiers celebrated, Notre Dame’s preseason All-America forward lay flat on his back, like a corpse, broken by another devastating blow in the unfriendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Colson’s 29 points and 11 rebounds weren’t enough. Neither were Gibbs’ 17 points and three 3-pointers, or Farrell’s 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds.

Not on a day when Notre Dame led by 14 in the first half and eight with 2:01 remaining, but couldn’t close. Not on a day when Indiana (6-5) out-rebounded Notre Dame 41-32, extending possessions when it mattered most.

“They got a couple (rebounds) in the overtime that really hurt us,” Brey said, “and eventually one that really got us.”

You could call it a collapse for the ages, but truthfully, you’d be wrong.

Because in this building, for this team, it happens every year.