Stunner! Notre Dame men's basketball advances with ACC tournament victory

Tribune Wire Report
ND Insider

NEW YORK – Notre Dame looked done, down 21 points and headed home from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with little hope of earning an NCAA tournament bid next week.

Then it all turned around, and the Irish had life. And a win. And still NCAA tournament dreams.

This was the ultimate steal as Notre Dame's men basketball team roared back for a 71-65 victory Wednesday over Virginia Tech in the second round of the ACC tournament at Barclays Center. The Irish (19-13) face second-seeded Duke on Thursday at 7 p.m. It will be a rematch of last season's ACC tournament championship game.

“How about that one, huh?” coach Mike Brey said. “I've never been prouder of a group because they were thumping us pretty good because they're really hard to guard. But I thought in the second half, with the last 15 minutes, we got better defensively, and we made some adjustments offensively and were able to get scoring again. You know, it's a great group, man.

“All the stuff they've been through, they're such tough dudes. And tonight you saw it, the toughness of hanging on in there.”

Down by 21 with 15:07 remaining, the Irish looked headed for a lopsided loss. But when Bonzie Colson tossed in a banked 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 2:02 remaining, Notre Dame took a 60-59 lead. It was its first lead since it was 15-12 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.

“That felt good,” Colson said of the bank shot 3. “Backboard is there for a reason. I shot it and I looked it in and it went in.

“Those are the shots that you’ve got to hit during those times and it felt good.”

Colson then returned off a timeout to make two free throws with 1:14 remaining. Colson's shot capped a 25-5 run. Matt Farrell made two free throws to make it a 27-5 run. The Irish stretched their lead to seven with 35 seconds left. A Justin Robinson 3 brought the Hokies back within three, 68-65, with 18.4 seconds left.

Notre Dame moved to one of the last four out in ESPN’s Bracketology. There’s still much to be decided the next four days, but not in Brey’s eyes.

“I've never been a big guy to campaign, but I think we really deserve to be in,” he said. “And I don't want to hear about one of the best 68. When I have my guys back, we're a top-20 team, and I think people in that committee know that. I feel strongly that we should be part of it. We have another great opportunity to end all the drama of it tomorrow night, but we need to get some rest.”

Farrell led the Irish with 22 points. Rex Pflueger added 14 points and nine rebounds.

“We disintegrated,” said Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams. “We didn’t guard. They scored 45 points in the last 15 minutes. (We) just completely fell apart the last 15 minutes defensively.”

Down eight points with eight minutes remaining, Notre Dame got within six following two free throws from Farrell after Virginia Tech forward Chris Clarke was whistled for a technical foul. Farrell was shoved along the baseline after he had tried to grab the ball from Clarke after he was whistled for a charge on Irish power forward Austin Torres.

“I had the ball from the rebound or whatever,” Clarke said. “Matt Farrell took the ball from me and I tried to get it back and he flopped and fell on the ground and got the technical.”

It was two shots and the ball for the Irish, who had life. Serious life.

Two free throws from T.J. Gibbs pulled the Irish within four with a ton of time left — 7:45. Justin Bibbs, silent for much of the second half, returned with a 3 to bump the Hokies back up by nine.

Notre Dame again climbed back to within four and had four chances to make it a one-possession game but came up short on all four chances heading into the under-four minute timeout. Clarke missed the front end of a one-and-one before another Irish illegal screen turned it over and kept the difference at four.

Virginia Tech couldn't make any sort of a shot.

Notre Dame was patient with the offensive plan and jumped to a 15-11 lead. But the Hokies tightened the defensive screws and ran off on a 12-2 burst to go up 23-17 following a Gibbs turnover. Brey burned a timeout to stop the slide and get the Irish back on track.

Virginia Tech’s lead hit double figures on a Clarke fade jumper in the lane with 7:11 remaining in the first half. That was part of a 16-2 run that saw the Irish miss eight straight shots, including a 1-on-3 layup by Colson.

Notre Dame trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, simply because it couldn’t hit shots. After connecting on only four of 24 attempts in the second half of Tuesday’s win over Pittsburgh. Notre Dame returned to make eight of 32 the first 20 minutes.

That combined 12-of-56 (21.4 percent) wasn’t going to get it done against an offensive outfit as lethal as Virginia Tech. Too many 1-of-8, 1-of-10, 2-of-12 stretches for Notre Dame, who looked scattered and even a little tired at the Hokies’ pace.

The Irish also made only three of 14 shots from 3.

Notre Dame scored only 21 points in the first half — its lowest since also getting 21 in an early-February loss to North Carolina State. That was the lowest point of a seven-game league losing streak.

Stopping Colson ranked right there at the top of the Tech scouting report. Colson missed his first five shots before getting a drop-in layup halfway through the first half. It was his only bucket. He went 1-of-10 and was noticeably frustrated with his inability to do what he’s long done — score, over anyone from anywhere.

That would change. It a big way.


At Barclays Center

NOTRE DAME (20-13): Geben 2-2 4-4 8, Colson 4-14 2-5 12, Pflueger 5-9 3-4 14, Farrell 5-13 8-8 22, Gibbs 3-10 4-4 13, Mooney 0-1 0-0 0, Torres 1-2 0-0 2, Djogo 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 20-53 21-25 71.

VIRGINIA TECH (21-11): Blackshear 4-9 1-1 9, Bibbs 6-14 0-0 15, Alexander-Walker 3-7 0-0 7, Wilson 1-1 0-0 2, Robinson 4-13 5-6 15, Horne 1-2 0-0 2, Jackson 0-2 0-0 0, Hill 1-4 0-0 3, Bede 0-1 0-0 0, Clarke 5-7 1-2 12. Totals 25-60 7-9 65.

Halftime--Virginia Tech 34-21. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 10-29 (Farrell 4-11, Gibbs 3-7, Colson 2-5, Pflueger 1-5, Djogo 0-1), Virginia Tech 8-30 (Bibbs 3-8, Robinson 2-6, Clarke 1-2, Hill 1-2, Alexander-Walker 1-5, Horne 0-1, Bede 0-1, Jackson 0-2, Blackshear 0-3). Fouled Out--Blackshear. Rebounds--Notre Dame 37 (Pflueger 9), Virginia Tech 30 (Blackshear 8). Assists--Notre Dame 13 (Gibbs 7), Virginia Tech 15 (Robinson 7). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 12, Virginia Tech 21. Technicals--Clarke. A--17,732 (17,732).

Notre Dame forward Austin Torres (1) reacts after drawing an offensive foul on Virginia Tech during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in New York. Notre Dame won 71-65. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)