Noie: Big shot from Matt Farrell, big ACC road win for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – No tears this time.

Not from Notre Dame senior guard Matt Farrell who stared down a shot clock that was set to expire before delivering as improbable a last-possession, long-range shot as the Irish men’s basketball program has seen in years.

No way was that one going in. How could it? How did it? On a scale of 10, the degree of difficulty was around a 15. On the road, in this situation, even larger. But for Farrell, there was no doubt. His wing 3 helped push Notre Dame to a 76-71 victory Saturday over Wake Forest at Joel Coliseum.

With the game tied at 71 and 24.5 seconds remaining after both teams combined for six empty offensive possessions – three each - and chances at the lead, Farrell took the ball near midcourt.

And went nowhere.

Did nothing.

Just stood there and held it, watched time slip away.

Um….

Hello?

Eighteen seconds remained on the shot clock when the possession commenced. Planning on going nowhere until at least seven, Farrell finally made a move at five. He dribbled right, angled toward the Irish bench, went behind his back to get his rhythm, dribbled once more and then rose up and connected on a fade 3 as the shot-clock buzzer sounded with 5.9 seconds left on the game clock.

That’s a lot to do in a short time.

“I just shot it, put it up,” Farrell said. “It was, ‘I’m going to take this shot after everything we’ve been through.’ Just take it with confidence and see what happens.”

Onions, television commentator Bill Raftery would say. Make that a double dose. Triple. It was a really big shot at a really big moment.

“We’re not shocked he banged it down,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I could see it in his eyes. Like, ‘I’m taking this one.’”

Farrell scored 21 points. Guard T.J. Gibbs added 20. And power forward Martinas Geben delivered another monster effort with 22 points, which tied his career high, with 14 rebounds. It marked the first time since the 2016 win at Duke that three Irish scored at least 20 points.

“Just won an ACC game on the road, no biggie,” Geben joked. “Just trying my best to do whatever it takes to help this team to win.”

His best was beast-like. Geben was everywhere. Dunking. Jump-hooking. Defending. Playing. Dominating against single coverage against the 7-foot-1 Doral Moore.

“He’s been playing well,” Brey said. “He has really developed into a low-post scorer for us. He’s very confident for us right now.”

Five days earlier, Farrell left the Purcell Pavilion court in tears and later spoke in the locker room in a near-whisper. He had little to say after the near-miss against Miami (Fla.). He was a whole lot happier Saturday after hitting the game’s biggest shot, after going over 1,000 points in his career, after getting a league road win, No. 3 this season for Notre Dame (17-12; 7-9 ACC).

“We’re not done yet,” Farrell said. “We’re going to keep fighting. This is a great win for us, to just keep grinding the whole game, keep fighting.”

Notre Dame did it after erasing a nine-point deficit with 7:54 left.

“The last six minutes, we really defended,” Brey said. “It’s kind of who this group’s been all year. It’s the culture of the program that has a lot of character.”

Other teams in 11th place in the league would have let this one go. Get one another day. Not this group. They battled. They believed. It was there for taking against a Demon Deacon team that struggled to do anything offensively after going the final 8:08 without a field goal. Take it, Wake seemed to say. So Notre Dame did.

Notre Dame’s first win in four tries on Tobacco Road this season – it had lost each of its three previous visits by an average of 17 points – was big for another reason. The Irish finally looked like the Irish of old.

These were the kind of games Notre Dame had long won the previous three seasons. On the road. In league play. Odds long. Time short. They often found ways to grind it out and gut it out and get out of opposing arenas with big wins.

“It looks like us,” Geben said. “We’re the team that’s been able to bounce from being down, made tough plays, got stops when we needed them.

“That looked like the old us that everybody knows.”

Forget where Wake Forest sits in the standings at second to last. This one was big. Big in that it could help propel the Irish into a big final week of the regular season and beyond. Big that it proved they still can win a close one.

Big.

Notre Dame seemingly had no business winning this game. Not this short-handed. Not this season when everything that could go wrong in close contests seemingly has in league play. Not with another patchwork rotation of eight. Make that seven and a half with junior swingman Rex Pflueger shrugging off a whole lot of hurt to give the Irish 25 minutes.

Pflueger connected on a key corner 3 with 5:45 remaining to get the Irish back within one.

“I don’t know how Pflueger played,” Brey said. “He’s really hurting. He worked through it.”

Pflueger limped toward the team bus barefoot with ice bags strapped seemingly everywhere to different aching parts. Still, he managed a smile. Win, and nothing really hurts. Lose, and everything does.

An interesting moment arrived with 6:15 remaining and the Irish down four. If an opposing player misses two free consecutive free throws inside the under-eight minute mark, every Wake Forest fan receives a free Chick-fil-A sandwich. Sophomore John Mooney was fouled on a roll to the hoop, and promptly missed his first foul shot.

Gulp!

The crowd was up and worked into a frenzy.

Mooney shook it all off and a semi-delirious crowd to make the second. A whole lot of Wake fans were disappointed.

“Big,” said Mooney, who had no idea how big.

When the Notre Dame team bus pulled into Joel Coliseum early Saturday afternoon, it was 76 degrees and sunny. It’s the warmest weather the Irish have had to go to work in since way back in November when this team was full of players and promise and won the Maui Jim Maui Invitational with a victory over then-No. 5 Wichita State.

Brey and his staff coached that game in shorts and T-shirts. No such outfits were seen Saturday as the Irish worked through road game No. 8 of nine this ACC season. Brey joked afterward that the weather was so nice he might spend another night in the Carolinas. But the Irish soon headed for home to Indiana.

Headed home happy.

“Our pulse,” Brey said, “is still there.”

NOTRE DAME (17-12): Mooney 1-4 1-2 3, Geben 10-18 2-2 22, Farrell 6-13 5-5 21, Pflueger 1-2 1-2 4, Gibbs 5-12 7-7 20, Torres 1-1 0-0 2, Burns 1-3 0-0 2, Djogo 0-4 2-2 2. Totals 25-57 18-20 76.

WAKE FOREST (11-18): Rike 0-1 0-0 0, Thompson 0-3 0-2 0, Woods 5-9 2-2 12, Wilbekin 5-8 0-0 14, Anderson 0-0 2-2 2, Mitchell 1-3 0-0 3, Okeke 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 2-6 5-7 9, Sarr 0-2 0-0 0, Crawford 3-8 0-0 6, Childress 5-11 0-0 13, Brown 5-8 1-2 12. Totals 26-59 10-15 71.

Halftime--Wake Forest 41-36. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 8-23 (Farrell 4-9, Gibbs 3-8, Pflueger 1-2, Djogo 0-2, Mooney 0-2), Wake Forest 9-26 (Wilbekin 4-6, Childress 3-6, Mitchell 1-3, Brown 1-3, Rike 0-1, Woods 0-1, Thompson 0-1, Sarr 0-2, Crawford 0-3). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 34 (Geben 14), Wake Forest 28 (Moore 6). Assists--Notre Dame 13 (Farrell 6), Wake Forest 17 (Woods 6). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 13, Wake Forest 15. A--10,626 (14,665).

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI