Noie: NIT basketball game that seemed like it might never end does with Notre Dame win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Postseason protocol produced several shifts to the game format of Tuesday’s wipeout win of No. 1 seed Notre Dame over No. 8 Hampton.

Instead of operating under two 20-minute halves, the National Invitation Tournament utilizes four 10-minute quarters. The lane is widened to NBA regulations and 3-point arc extended to international distance. But there also needed to be one more rule implemented.

A running clock.

Tuesday’s game was little more than a controlled scrimmage, which also was reflective in the final attendance of 2,101. There may have been that many people in the stands back at an Irish pickup hoops game on an early-September afternoon before Notre Dame and Georgia played football across the way later that night. They may have made more noise that fall day than on a snowy, late mid-week night in March.

This contest, with timeouts a minute longer dictated by television, at times felt like a Notre Dame home football game with an endless stream of NBC commercials. The Irish didn’t let any of that affect its collective focus or flow. They led for 38:02 and by as many as 25 points to advance to the NIT’s second round with an 84-63 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

“You kind of feel you’re in the tournament now,” said coach Mike Brey. “We can look around the bracket now, some other games happened. You can start to see the route to get back to New York.”

Next up in that “other” postseason college basketball tournament will be an early Saint Patrick’s Day party. Saturday. At home. At noon. A green carnation in Brey’s lapel? Green uniforms for the home team? Former coach Digger Phelps dancing a jig at intermission? Shamrock shakes for the fans in the event of a win? Put the promo machine in overdrive for this one when the second round brings to town Wednesday’s winner between No. 5 seed Penn State and No. 4 Temple.

Notre Dame (21-14) gave the next opponent plenty to ponder. Like power forward Martinas Geben, who deserves to carry off at season’s end team most valuable player honors. He went for 18 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes. He made seven of his nine shots, including four dunks.

“Just went out and played,” said Geben, who noted he spent no time at the Grotto praying for inclusion in the NCAA tournament. “I knew it wouldn’t help. God’s busy with other things.”

Like fellow senior power forward Bonzie Colson, who bounced all around the building. He fell to the floor, jumped into the stands, tumbled out of bounds. He even had a contact lense knocked from his left eye which he eventually picked off his cheek and flipped to the scorer’s table. Colson also had some blood on the front of his white jersey to show for it after going for 14 points and 12 rebounds.

A typical Colson effort.

Guard T.J. Gibbs busted loose for 17 points and six rebounds. The Irish finished with 18 assists to seven turnovers. They were on pace to tie the season low for miscues before two in the final two-plus minutes.

“We’re flowing better; the ball’s not sticking,” said guard Matt Farrell, who had six assists. “When the ball doesn’t stick and it moves, that’s when we’re at our best. We did that today.”

Every available Irish got in on the act. Power forward Austin Torres made all four of his free throws. Each one produced a big cheer from those who know what each make meant. Former walk-on Matt Gregory connected on a corner 3 in the closing minutes to the delight of his parents, who have put thousands of miles on the family minivan following the Irish over his four seasons. And current walk-on Liam Nelligan capped the Irish scoring with a layup.

It was one of those nights where a lot of guys had a lot to feel good about. Best part about it for them is they get to do it all again to end this week, end it on a good note after a real rotten start.

Still seething over not being included in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014, the Irish had to think hard and talk out whether they wanted to even play in the NIT. This is a group that’s won a lot, and in March. But once they reached the decision to chase an NIT championship — and possibly get back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2013 — it was pretty easy to snap back to reality.

“One down, two to go to get to the Garden,” Brey said.

Sunday stung, but by practice Monday, the Irish were back to doing what they do. By the team dinner that night at Corndance, one of Farrell’s favorite haunts, they were back to clowning on one another and cutting up as a group.

"We're having fun with each other, we're smiling on the court," Farrell said. "Guys' energy was up. Some teams aren't like that playing in this. We can't take this for granted."

Brey knew then that the Irish were ready to play, and that the other guys were in trouble. That the Pirates were, nearly from the opening tap. Brey still had his moments as he wondered about shot selection and defensive indifference, but there was very little drama — OK, none — to this one.

“Kids are amazingly resilient, thank God,” Brey said. “They help the old coach stay resilient when you see that kind of vibe coming off them.”

Still, the whole quarter concept took some getting used to for the players. When Hampton guard Jermaine Marrow drove in for a layup to end the first quarter, Colson took a few steps toward the Irish locker room after hearing the horn.

But it wasn’t halftime. It just ended the first 10 minutes. Ten more to go.

Whoops.

“I just completely forgot,” Colson said. “I was about to run in there. It was kind of funny on my part. We’re still adjusting as a group. Some of those rules are great.”

Forty-eight hours earlier, Brey talked about how excited he was to see his guys back on the court, if only because everyone in the rotation minus freshman swingman D.J. Harvey (knee surgery) was healthy. But even that wouldn’t last. Junior forward Elijah Burns missed Tuesday’s game with a left knee injury. Further evaluation will come Thursday.

Another main guy in another set of street clothes. Pretty much par for the course this season for this group. Yet it’s a season that the Irish don’t want to end anytime soon.

“We want to play in this; we want to play as a group,” Colson said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs as a group, but for us to (possibly) win a championship shows our character.

“This is something you can’t take for granted.”

NOTRE DAME 84, HAMPTON 63

At Purcell Pavilion

HAMPTON (19-16): Barnes 1-6 2-3 4, Marrow 8-25 4-4 21, Mitchell 0-3 0-0 0, Fisher 5-16 0-0 12, Trent 0-2 0-0 0, Colbert 1-4 3-4 5, Wilson-Fisher 6-10 0-0 13, Bracey 3-8 0-0 8, Heckstall 0-6 0-0 0. Totals 24-80 9-11 63.

NOTRE DAME (21-14): Colson 6-11 2-3 14, Geben 7-9 4-4 18, Gibbs 7-13 0-0 17, Farrell 4-18 0-0 9, Pflueger 1-8 0-0 3, Torres 1-1 4-4 6, Mooney 2-6 1-2 5, Gregory 1-2 0-0 3, Djogo 3-9 0-0 7, Nelligan 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 33-79 11-13 84.

Halftime--Notre Dame 46-34. 3-Point Goals--Hampton 6-26 (Bracey 2-7, Fisher 2-8, Marrow 1-2, Wilson-Fisher 1-3, Barnes 0-1, Heckstall 0-1, Colbert 0-2, Trent 0-2), Notre Dame 7-27 (Gibbs 3-4, Gregory 1-2, Djogo 1-3, Pflueger 1-3, Farrell 1-10, Colson 0-1, Mooney 0-4). Fouled Out--Wilson-Fisher. Rebounds--Hampton 45 (Barnes 13), Notre Dame 51 (Colson 12). Assists--Hampton 14 (Marrow 7), Notre Dame 18 (Farrell, Pflueger 6). Total Fouls--Hampton 14, Notre Dame 11. A--2,101 (9,149).

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson (35) dribbles down the court during the Notre Dame vs. Hampton men's basketball game in the opening round of the NIT tournament at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA