Noie: With game there for taking, Notre Dame gives another one away

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — Flat on his back near halfcourt after his heave that would have sent it to a second overtime Saturday rattled around the rim and bounced out, Notre Dame power forward Bonzie Colson stayed still.

Arms extended. Legs extended. Looking up while bedlam busted out all around, there Colson lay.

Colson eventually rose, shook a few hands and wandered toward the locker room with the rest of his seemingly dazed and confused teammates. Wandered off with another painful and puzzling loss in the seventh-annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a building that was turned upside down and into Assembly Hall North after Notre Dame let an eight-point lead with 2:01 remaining in regulation get away.

For the third straight December, the No. 18 Irish led one of the state’s Big Ten teams by double digits. For the third year in a row, it was the other guys who made plays necessary to win the game. Who saw an opportunity and grabbed it. Who had the answers.

Instead of breezing out of the building and back on the bus for the ride home with what should have been an easy, effortless afternoon, the Irish were left to pick up more Crossroads pieces following an 80-77 overtime loss to Indiana.

In the spirit of the year, the Irish gift-wrapped this one to an average Indiana team that opened the year with a 21-point home loss to Indiana State. The Hoosiers tried this one on for size, and fit it fine.

“We didn’t deserve this one,” Colson said. “We should have been a lot better, been more poised in game situations.”

Right on both fronts. Notre Dame (8-3) didn’t deserve it and better be better in game situations, or this season will slide south. Soon.

Up by 16 on Indiana two years ago? Loss.

Up 17 last year to Purdue? Loss.

Up Saturday by as many as 14 and doing just enough every time to answer Indiana’s runs with more points of their own? Not good enough. Again.

“We,” said Irish guard Matt Farrell, “didn’t make winning plays down the stretch.”

Happened in the home loss to Ball State. Happened again Saturday. It’s not been a month since Notre Dame captured the Maui Jim Maui Invitational with three wins in three nights. That seems like another team. Another time. That group was seemingly going somewhere — rocketing to No. 5 in the national rankings and feeling pretty good about itself. Good enough to win the league. Good enough to play deep into March. Good.

They had swagger.

Now? Just staggered.

This team’s got some serious work to do, and not a lot of time to do it. Notre Dame returns to action Tuesday against Dartmouth then gets Southeastern Louisiana before Christmas break. But those gimmie games will tell nothing of where this team might be headed. League play is closing fast and this group — this veteran, seemingly together group — is supposed to have answers. Instead, they have only questions.

Why so much trouble rebounding?

Why the difficulty in making winning plays?

Why can’t this team get a stop?

What’s it going to take for this group to believe? Like, really believe. Their words say they do. Their eyes and body language? Not so much.

Notre Dame was beaten on the glass 41-32 and beaten to the one rebound that turned everything. Juwan Morgan missed a free throw, Zach McRoberts chased it down, then fed Morgan for a dunk that gave Indiana a 78-77 lead with eight seconds remaining. Farrell then rushed a quick 3 that had no chance. Out the window went a win.

It may not yet be time to jump off this Irish hoops bandwagon, but more than a few passengers likely are checking the schedule of upcoming stops.

Who is Notre Dame going to be after this one?

Right now, there’s no answer. Except one.

Notre Dame’s not very good. Not after Ball State. Not after Saturday. Good teams don’t let an average Indiana team hang around just long enough to get confident and start hitting shots and keep grabbing rebound after rebound. Good teams get stops. Good teams get to the loose balls. Good teams make plays. Do something — do anything — that tells the other team time and again that it’s not going to be their night.

“We didn’t make very smart plays down the stretch and overtime,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “It really cost us.”

Cost a veteran Irish team that prides itself on executing game situations. They do them well in practice all the time. In the game? Not so much. Can’t get a good offensive possession when one’s needed. Can’t get a stop. Can’t grab a rebound. Can’t make plays. Can’t win games it should. Games it has to.

“We,” Brey said of the late defensive doings, “broke down a little bit.”

It never should have come to Colson’s last-second heave. Or Morgan’s opportunistic two-hand dunk. Or fifth-year senior Austin Torres, a career 42.5 percent from the foul line, being in the game at the end of regulation, then getting fouled with 0.8 seconds remaining with the score tied and having the chance to win it right then and there.

But it did. And it didn’t end well for the Irish.

“We gotta be better,” Farrell said.

Notre Dame had won its last six overtime games and nine of the last 10. It hadn’t lost an overtime game since 2014. This was another that was there to get. Instead, the Irish gave it away.

They lost. And look lost.

“We’ve got to find ourselves,” Farrell said.


Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs (10) reacts to a Hoosier surge in overtime during ND's Crossroads Classic loss to Indianam Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Herald-Times/CHRIS HOWELL)