Noie: One more long ride home after another long day for Notre Dame in final Crossroads Classic

Tom Noie
ND Insider

INDIANAPOLIS  —  You knew this one was going to go this way, didn't you?

If you've watched your share of Notre Dame men's basketball games the last few seasons, especially the contests from this city this time of year, you could pretty much write the script before this one went final.

Notre Dame plays well and gets an early lead, then goes into an extended funk to fall into a double-digit deficit. Then, some life, and maybe, a chance.

But in the end, a loss. Again.

That's the way it again went Saturday for Notre Dame (4-5) at the 11th annual Crossroads Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse against Indiana (9-2), which made the plays when the plays needed to be made in a 64-56 victory.

► More:Noie: When the lights were bright, this Notre Dame men's basketball team finally delivered

Dane Goodwin led the Irish with 15 points.

Tied at 47 with 6:50 remaining, Notre Dame allowed Indiana to score 11 of the next 13 points to put this one to bed. Good night, Irish, safe travels home. Sigh.

Notre Dame led by as many as nine (early) and trailed by as many as 10 (late). An 11-1 run helped the Irish climb back to even it at 46 with 8:11 remaining following a Goodwin pull-up. Just when it seemed the Irish had little life left, they had it. A lot of it. 

"We started sharing the ball better, got some good looks," Goodwin said. "We put ourselves in position. We just need to do that for a full 40. Can't go in spurts and expect to win games like that."

The Irish got some stops. They got some good looks. They made shots. Just when you thought it was about over, it wasn't. But it was about taking that spurt to the next level and doing what Notre Dame did the previous Saturday against Kentucky and finishing.

Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley (0) fights for a loose ball with Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Given all that seemingly went wrong for Notre Dame, this is where the Irish found themselves — down two with the ball and under six minutes remaining. Then, with a clean look from 3 on the wing, Cormac Ryan fired.

It hit ... nothing.

"What did we have, three possessions with a chance to take the lead at a key time and couldn't do it?" wondered Irish coach Mike Brey. "There's nothing like taking the lead, just the psychology of taking a lead in a game like this and we really never could."

Notre Dame didn't lead for the final 22:22.

"Just couldn't get it done today," Goodwin said.

Minutes after the Ryan miss, the Irish were taking timeout and talking strategy while down five. That's how fragile this game can be. Make your shots, and all is well. Miss them, and it's more misery. Back from a timeout, and an Irish turnover. They made this one so degree of difficulty hard.

Hard because of some segments – five minutes here, four there, three more here – the Irish have played like they can play with anyone. In the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the country. Then there are segments where they play like they just picked up the game yesterday. And that can't happen at this big-boy pants level.

"It's been frustrating for us," Brey said. "I love that we were in position. That was a big punch we took early. It shows that it's a group that's going to keep swinging."

And missing, but swinging, nonetheless.

Notre Dame entered Saturday having lost its last two Crossroads contests. It hadn’t won at the downtown Indianapolis arena since 2018, when it beat Purdue. That was the game when former Irish guard Rex Pflueger blew out his knee in the second half, which kind of turned the whole season. 

Notre Dame guard Trey Wertz (2) drives to the basket ahead of Indiana center Michael Durr during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Even when the Irish have had success here, it’s been bittersweet. 

The Irish hadn’t beaten the Hoosiers since 2013. That streak will carry over into any future meeting, be it a traditional home-and-home or annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Maybe there Notre Dame can find some success against the state's flagship program and one of the game's blue bloods.

It rarely happened here, where Notre Dame finished this version of the Crossroads 4-7. It tied Purdue for the fewest wins of the four schools in the annual December doubleheader.

Notre Dame needed this one in so many ways coming off a win the previous Saturday against then-No. 10 Kentucky. As much-needed as that one was, and getting that gave the Irish some much-needed confidence, they still seemed a fragile group. One that’s not sure how good they really are – or could be. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Paul Atkinson Jr. (20) grabs a rebound during the Crossroads Classic college basketball tournament on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the Indiana Hoosiers.

A big effort Saturday would've change that. Instead, we're back to wondering if these guys can be any good, if this season can have any semblance of success.

This one threatened to go sideways for the Irish just before the break in a first half that saw the Irish lead by as many as nine and for more than 13 minutes. The Irish had everything about the game – the tempo, the shot selection, the defense – to their liking. They were up by five, then by seven, then, ultimately, nine. Then it was like a lightbulb went off over the Indiana sideline, one that said, you might want to look inside. Early. Often. See Trayce Jackson-Davis? Find him. Early. Often. 

Once that happened, Notre Dame had few answers – on either end. Six straight points, part of a 13-3 run, gave Indiana a lead late in the first half. Indiana’s run topped out at 15-3 as the Irish managed only one hoop – a Blake Wesley 3 – over the final 4:38. 

The scoring drought carried over into the second half, to the point where Brey couldn't wait until the first media timeout — under 16 minutes — to stop the bleeding. Notre Dame already was down eight and in serious trouble.

Power forward Paul Atkinson, Jr., gave the Irish their first field goal in over nine minutes with a right-handed hook/flip shot to get Notre Dame back within six. It wasn’t so much that Indiana’s defense was difficult to decipher as it was that Notre Dame just couldn’t find any semblance of good offense. The Irish turned it over nine times the first 20 minutes. 

If Wesley didn’t have the ball in his hands looking to create, the offense just looked so lost, so uncertain, so not there. As big of a role as the freshman has played the first nine games, he might need to do even more the rest of the way. 

Indiana Hoosiers center Michael Durr (2) hangs onto the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Trey Wertz (2) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Paul Atkinson Jr. (20) try to snap it up during the Crossroads Classic college basketball tournament on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the Indiana Hoosiers.

Doesn’t matter how well you play or how much you control tempo, you turn it over nine times against a fellow Power Five team, it’s going to be a long day.

It was a long day.  

Having already played Power Five teams Illinois and Kentucky, Notre Dame didn’t need much time to adjust to the speed or strength or overall athleticism of Indiana, which often has been the case in this building after a soft non-league schedule tends to catch up with the Irish. Instead, the Irish showed early that they were in this one, leading by three and finding a good flow in the first segment. 

They were in this one early. They just needed to stay in it. 

Like the previous game out, Notre Dame knew that it had to collectively rebound from start to finish. It worked against Kentucky, which came into the contest the nation’s leading rebounding team. It worked early Saturday. When Goodwin flew in from the left side for a rebound and reverse layup, it not only stretched Notre Dame’s lead to five (13-8), it gave the guys from the Bend an early 12-6 rebounding advantage. 

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish Leprechaun does a backflip during the Crossroads Classic college basketball tournament on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the Indiana Hoosiers.

For one final time, it was a two-plus hour drive down U.S. 31 on a Saturday morning in December to cover what was the 11th and final Crossroads. It was good while it lasted, and may have lasted a few additional years, but it was time for this one to end. For myriad reasons. 

Revisit it a few years from now when it freshens up, but for now, Notre Dame isn’t going to miss that long bus ride (win or lose) back. Saturday started a saturated stretch of three games in five days on the heels of final exams. But if the yells coming from the hallway outside the media room was any indication, the Irish had plenty of juice for this one. 

They were ready to play – or seemed ready – with more than 10 minutes still remaining in the day’s first game, which quickly slid into a one-sided affair between No. 3 Purdue and Butler. 

Saturday saw Gainbridge (nee Bankers Life, Conseco) Fieldhouse host the usual sellout crowd, but nobody around downtown was all that broken up about seeing this one go.  It’s time for Notre Dame to do – and play – someone else coming clear of exams in mid-December.

Play someone they can beat and gain some confidence, instead of again searching for it. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI

► INDIANA 64, NOTRE DAME 56

At Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

INDIANA (9-2): Jackson-Davis 6-12 5-8 17, Kopp 2-7 0-0 5, Thompson 4-4 3-6 11, Johnson 3-11 3-4 11, Stewart 3-4 3-4 12, Phinisee 2-8 0-0 6, Leal 0-1 0-0 0, Geronimo 1-1 0-0 2, Durr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-48 14-22 64.

NOTRE DAME (4-5): Atkinson 4-6 3-4 11, Laszewski 1-5 0-0 3, Goodwin 6-13 2-2 15, Ryan 1-9 1-2 3, Wesley 5-16 3-4 14, Hubb 2-6 0-0 5, Wertz 2-3 1-1 5. Totals 21-58 10-13 56.

Halftime: Indiana 30-27. 3-Point Goals: Indiana 8-20 (Stewart 3-4, Phinisee 2-3, Johnson 2-9, Kopp 1-3, Leal 0-1), Notre Dame 4-22 (Laszewski 1-3, Goodwin 1-4, Hubb 1-5, Wesley 1-5, Ryan 0-5). Rebounds: Indiana 32 (Jackson-Davis 12), Notre Dame 31 (Atkinson 11). Assists: Indiana 16 (Phinisee 5), Notre Dame 5 (Ryan, Hubb 2). Total Fouls: Indiana 16, Notre Dame 18. A: 17,905 (20,000).