Noie: Another bankrupt day for Notre Dame at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
INDIANAPOLIS — What a waste ...
Of a pleasant and unseasonably warm Saturday, which the Midwest doesn’t get many of in late December. Of an opportunity to head home for Christmas feeling good about themselves and the direction of this college basketball season after much early uncertainty.
Of a spirited comeback that had everyone in the building in green and blue and gold believing. Of the chance to leave an impression for the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference with league play closing quickly. Watch out for Notre Dame? Not quite. Not yet.
Instead, a 62-60 loss to Indiana leaves a mark. A big bruise that won’t fade so easily. Let those Hoosiers off the hook at the annual Crossroads Classic. Again.
Down by as many as 17 points after a no-show of a first half, Notre Dame found a groove and looked to have figured out a way to steal one Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which has become its House of Horrors. It’s been nothing but heartbreak for the only state team that feels like an outsider at this annual in-state doubleheader.
How many different ways can the Irish take a gut punch? Overtime loss to Indiana two years ago. Guard Rex Pflueger’s season-ending knee injury last year. Now this. End this annual date on the schedule already. Notre Dame won’t be upset. Those long and quiet and soul-searching bus rides back up U.S. 31 are getting old.
Unable to dribble or shoot or defend or do much of anything for a stretch, Indiana practically begged to give this one away. Here it is. Take it. Please.
Notre Dame did everything right for a scary good 22-3 scoring run in the second half. Moved it. Shot it. Defended. Competed. Believed.
“We just started playing with confidence,” said sophomore guard Dane Goodwin, who played a third straight coming-of-age game. “Got some shots to go in, got some open looks. Guys were making plays.”
Then when it needed to do a little more, Notre Dame couldn’t.
“We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch,” said Irish power forward John Mooney. “We’re going to be in close games all year. We’ve got to find ways to close out and just do a better job stepping up and making a play.”
Forget anything that fat guy in the red suit and beard — no not that guy in the lower section Saturday — might bring Wednesday. This was the ultimate lump of coal in the stocking. The shirt that’s two sizes too small. The pants that are two sizes too big. The present with no receipt. No exchanges. No returns. Here you go.
Ho, ho, ho? No, no, no.
Applaud Notre Dame for the heart and hustle it showed. That was nice to see. Honestly, fans should be way beyond that with this program. With this coaching staff. With these guys, who just have to be better — and they know that — when there’s a game like this one for the taking. Good teams don’t fall asleep at the switch to start. Really good teams figure a way to close it all out. Notre Dame long was able to do that. Now it can’t.
“Sometimes you don’t deserve to win it when you play defense for 15 minutes instead of 32,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Afterward, Brey was asked why it was so hard for Notre Dame to score when it had to score to get out of here with a win.
“I have no idea,” he said.
He’s not alone.
“It’s tough, man,” Mooney said. “We fight back and take a lead and then we can’t close it. It stings, no doubt.”
Notre Dame staggered through the final 4:20 without a basket. That second-half confidence became cluelessness.
Once Brey watches the film of this one — maybe on the bus ride home or maybe someplace warm over the holiday — he’ll see that each time his team needed to make a play that could have decided this game, it wasn’t made.
Like when Mooney and Nate Laszewski battled one another for a defensive rebound with the Irish up two and 78 seconds remaining. Neither could corral the loose ball, which gave it back to the Hoosiers. Like missing Goodwin, who clearly was the best Irish player and had it going in the second half when he scored all 15 of his points, on an open backdoor cut in the closing minute. Like deciding not to effectively rotate out to freshman Armaan Franklin who simply camped in the corner in front of the Hoosiers’ bench and waited, waited, waited.
When the ball swung his way and no Irish defender followed, Franklin rose and fired in the game-winning bucket. From up one to down two went the Irish. They’d offer no response.
Great that Notre Dame earlier had strung together stops in nine of 10 possessions. No stop on that possession was a crusher.
Goodwin was the only Irish guard who was anywhere near good. The three starters — T.J. Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb and Pflueger — combined to shoot 4-for-14 from the floor, 0-for-11 from 3. Pflueger pushed through a strained right groin that knocked him back for all of two minutes late in the second half. Gibbs tweaked his right knee early and never really was himself.
This one looked a whole lot like previous road losses to North Carolina and to Maryland, which doesn’t offer much optimism for what’s to come. Teams that are physical and long and lanky and athletic and can get past their guys on the bounce — basically better — have been a problem. When up against those teams, Notre Dame struggles to guard, struggles to score, struggles to play. Saturday was no exception.
“It,” Brey said, “was hard to get anything good.”
Here’s the bad — those types of teams are coming at the Irish in waves come conference play.
The second-half spurt aside, Notre Dame jumped back into its overall shot-missing routine. Notre Dame finished 37.5 percent from the floor, 22.2 percent from 3, where they took 27 and made just six after averaging 17.5 made 3s a game the last two.
Notre Dame entered the national leader in assist/turnover ratio and second in fewest fouls, but enough with those numbers. How about trading a few more turnovers and a few more fouls for some more made shots?
Maybe that, like the expectations of doing enough this season to scramble back to the NCAA tournament, is just too tough a task to ask.
NOTRE DAME (60): Mooney 5-13 4-8 15, Goodwin 6-12 0-0 15, Hubb 2-6 1-2 5, Laszewski 3-8 2-2 10, Pflueger 0-3 0-0 0, Gibbs 2-8 0-0 4, J.Durham 3-6 5-5 11, Djogo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 12-17 60.
INDIANA (62): Smith 2-10 0-1 4, Brunk 4-9 1-3 9, Green 5-11 0-0 11, A.Durham 1-6 3-4 5, Jackson-Davis 7-9 0-0 14, Phinisee 0-6 0-0 0, Franklin 5-6 3-4 17, Hunter 1-3 0-0 2, Anderson 0-1 0-0 0, Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 7-12 62.
Halftime_Indiana 34-23. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 6-27 (Goodwin 3-7, Laszewski 2-6, Mooney 1-3, Hubb 0-3, Pflueger 0-3, Gibbs 0-5), Indiana 5-17 (Franklin 4-5, Green 1-5, Anderson 0-1, A.Durham 0-2, Hunter 0-2, Phinisee 0-2). Rebounds_Notre Dame 31 (Mooney, Laszewski 10), Indiana 36 (Brunk 14). Assists_Notre Dame 19 (Pflueger 6), Indiana 14 (A.Durham 4). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 14, Indiana 13. A_18,538 (20,000).
Records: Notre Dame 8-4, Indiana 11-1