Notre Dame loses G Rex Pflueger for season with knee injury

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

What was feared Saturday afternoon was confirmed Monday following results of an MRI.

Notre Dame senior guard Rex Pflueger has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The injury will sideline Pflueger for the rest of the season and may end his collegiate career.

Pflueger was hurt with just over five minutes remaining in Saturday’s 88-80 victory over Purdue in the eighth-annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Defending on the weak side of a Purdue possession, Pflueger jumped for a potential defensive rebound when his left leg gave out and he crumpled under the Boilermakers’ basket.

Pflueger immediately signaled for trainer Skip Meyer. Pflueger was helped off the court, then returned to the Irish bench with a bag of ice wrapped to his left leg.

Pflueger was hurt after playing one of his most complete games in an Irish uniform. He finished with seven points, three rebounds, two steals and a career-high 10 assists in 30 minutes. He was not available for comment Monday, but did post a message on Instagram.

“First of all, I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me with kind words and positivity for both my family and myself! I am saddened to find out that I did in fact tear my ACL in our last game against Purdue… But at least I didn’t break any bones so that’s awesome lol. This is just one of life’s crazy tests that I have prepared myself for with the loving help of my family and my friends.

“I will continue to cheer and push my Notre Dame family to not only compete but to dominate for the rest of the season. We have an incredible group of players who will pick up right where we left off last game.

“I will not let this injury affect the person I am and will continue to stay positive for better times to come! Thank you Irish Nation.”

Pflueger might — emphasize might — petition the NCAA for a fifth year. The cutoff for maintaining a year of eligibility was Saturday’s game — Notre Dame’s 10th. It remains to be determined whether Pflueger would want to return for another season. He’s scheduled to graduate and had plans to enter the business world.

Any discussion about Pflueger’s possible return will occur in the spring. He’s scheduled for surgery sometime in the next four weeks.

“Rex Pflueger is like a son to me,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a statement. “I’m extremely disappointed that he won’t be able to continue this season. He has been an unbelievable winner and leader for us.”

Pflueger continued to lead even after his injury. He coached up the Irish from the end of the bench the final 90 seconds of Saturday’s win.

“I look forward to him continuing to lead and giving me great feedback the rest of the season,” Brey said.

Should Saturday’s game mark the end of Pflueger’s college career, he would have played in 110 games with 57 starts. He scored 596 career points with 334 rebounds, 240 assists and 103 steals. He played 2,590 career minutes.

His injury marks the fourth time in the last eight seasons that Notre Dame has lost a key player for a significant amount of time. In 2011-12, former Irish power forward Tim Abromaitis played in two games before missing the final 28 with a college-career ending knee injury. In 2013-14, former guard Jerian Grant missed the final 20 games because of an “academic misstep.”

Last season, Notre Dame lost power forward Bonzie Colson for 15 games with a broken left foot, senior guard Matt Farrell for five with a bone bruise to his left ankle and then-freshman D.J. Harvey for 17 with a knee injury. Pflueger also missed the first game last year with a back injury.

Pflueger was the team’s lone senior and last remaining piece of the 2015 recruiting class. Power forward Elijah Burns left the program after four games this season and has since transferred to Siena. Former Irish shooting guard Matt Ryan spent two seasons at Notre Dame before transferring to Vanderbilt. He’s averaging 9.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 24.9 minutes as the Commodores’ starting small forward.

Losing Pflueger leaves Notre Dame with eight available scholarship players. A ninth — freshman power forward Chris Doherty — has dressed in uniform the last seven games but has not played. The Irish coaching staff would prefer to put Doherty on a five-year eligibility plan. He’d play this season only in an emergency situation.

On Friday, Irish freshman guard Robby Carmody announced via Twitter that he would miss the rest of the season because of a left shoulder injury (torn labrum) that will require surgery. Carmody averaged 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10.0 minutes over the first nine games, which included two starts.

Carmody is expected to return healthy for 2019-20 and will have four seasons of eligibility.

With the season-ending news on Carmody and Pflueger, coupled with last season’s run on injuries, Notre Dame will have lost various players to injury for a combined 79 games the last two years.

Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger (0) looks to pass during the Illinois at Notre Dame NCAA men’s basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.