Noie: First start after late night ignited college career of former Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell
One of the best stories in a Notre Dame men’s basketball program with a bunch of them sure had one to finally tell earlier this month.
The tale of how former point guard Matt Farrell went from end-of-the-rotation afterthought to key starter went public at the team’s year-end awards night. But it deserves a bigger audience than the couple hundred or so that heard it that evening at Heritage Hall.
So let’s tell it here. Today.
To get there — the 2016 NCAA tournament opener against Michigan at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. — jump back two games prior. Against Duke. In the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Washington.
Notre Dame roared back from 16 points down in the second half to win in overtime. The Irish locker room afterward was one raucous place. Coach Mike Brey chest-bumped former walk-on guard Matt Gregory. Power forward Zach Auguste talked of his career-high 22 rebounds. Brey held court in the cramped quarters, offering one keeper of a quote after another to the ACC/D.C. media. The Irish sure were happy.
Everyone but one.
As the media made their way around the room, many stepped over or past or on a mustard-gold jersey tossed right in the center of the room. It was No. 5. It was Farrell’s. He was nowhere around after having logged his eighth and last DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) in a roller-coaster sophomore season.
For all the good vibes that day around a program that eventually would get to a second-straight Elite Eight, Farrell wasn’t feeling it.
To say that Farrell had one foot out the transfer door would be wrong. More like one and a half. Maybe even both feet. Farrell wasn’t happy with his role, wasn’t happy about his future, wasn’t sure Notre Dame was the best basketball place for him. Had everything stayed the same, he likely would have left.
That all would change in a massive way eight days later. and in of all places, New York. Farrell’s favorite city.
Brey had one of those nutty-professor/mad scientist moments leading into the Michigan game. With then-starting point guard Demetrius Jackson in need of some ball-handling help, why not pair him alongside Farrell to start the game? Never mind that Farrell had never before started, never played serious minutes in a game of that magnitude. Brey was intrigued by the idea. He couldn’t let it go. Wouldn’t.
His staff tried to talk him out of it. To stay with the status quo. To not take such a risk at such an important time of the season.
During one final staff meeting/stand in a conference room at the Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan on the eve before the game, Brey ended any debate. Farrell’s starting, he barked, and also included a few colorful, choice, four-letter words. That was that. Deal with it.
Except Brey didn’t tell Farrell that day. Which led to that night.
“Bo was in town,” Brey said of Farrell’s older brother/best friend/role model. “That’s all I gotta say.”
Usually, that’s all that needs to be said. Turn the Brothers Farrell loose in New York City and they’ll likely find a good time. and stay out late. Really late. More like early-morning late instead of late-night late. Except Farrell’s brother wasn’t out with him that night. He was back at his parents’ home in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. It was a bunch of Farrell’s friends that convinced him to crush curfew.
“I do love New York,” Farrell said.
A new direction
Why would Farrell push curfew less than 24 hours before such an important game? A game the Irish needed him to play well to win? That DNP game against Duke still was fresh in his mind. and he was in New York, the city that doesn’t sleep.
Farrell didn’t get much of it.
“I didn’t think I was playing,” he said.
Farrell ran into former Irish assistant coach Martin Ingelsby in the elevator the morning of the game. Ingelsby saw Farrell’s condition and wondered if the guard had gone out — and stayed out — past curfew. Farrell admitted only to being out a little later than usual. Ingelsby had no time to be mad. Big news was about to break. It involved Farrell.
“He said, ‘Make sure you’re ready at breakfast because this is an important announcement,’” Farrell said.
That’s when Farrell first heard of Brey’s plan. He would make his first career start — in New York, close to his New Jersey home, with many family and friends in the Barclays Center stands. Farrell’s brother and mother and father were preparing to leave for the city when a two-word group text hit their cells.
“We were all in disbelief at how random that text was,” Bo said. “It was crazy.”
Farrell played 22 minutes — one shy of his then-career high. He scored five points with four assists and one rebound. He also gave the Irish a different backcourt dimension — two point guards paired at the same time — that allowed Notre Dame to run off three NCAA tournament wins.
Sixteen days after that DNP against Duke, Farrell was in his own breakout interview room on the concourse of Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia as Notre Dame prepared to face North Carolina for an East Regional championship.
Talk about one strange trip. It was the strangest.
Farrell never came off the bench for his final two seasons. and it all goes back to that late night/early morning in Manhattan.
“It’s a great story,” Farrell said. “It’s one that I told my family and one my family talks about a lot. It was pretty funny.”
Days after the 2015-16 season ended was when Brey first learned of Farrell’s curfew miss. What could he do then? The Irish won that Michigan game and then won two more. Jackson was off to the NBA. Brey had his starting point guard for the next two years.
Brey tells the story during coaching clinics.
“I learned a great coaching point,” he said. “When you’re going to start a guy who hasn’t started or wasn’t expecting to start, let him know the day before the game. Don’t ever wait until game day.
“All I know is he played great against Michigan.”
And for the next two seasons when Farrell started all 67 games that he was healthy. When he logged over 2,300 minutes, scored over 1,000 points and had over 200 assists. That’s a pretty good two-year run for a three-star prospect who nobody really knew of coming out of high school. They know him now. May know him even better as he chases his NBA chance.
“We’re so thankful that he hung in there with us,” Brey said. “The last two years, he became one of the best point guards in the country. What a great story Matt Farrell is.”
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