For the 4th time in this 2016-2017 NCAA basketball season, the lovely people in the ND men’s basketball program gave me credentials to cover a game for some reason. This time, I was given a fantastic vantage point in the press box, allowing me to see the entire court for a change.
Notre Dame came into the game ranked 15th and sporting a 16-3 record (5-1 ACC), while Syracuse was 11-8 (3-3 ACC) and in desperate need of a big win. The Orange have given the Irish a ton of trouble over the past few years, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way Notre Dame controlled the contest beginning-to-end.
ND ended up winning 84-66. Below, I use painstaking detail to describe how it happened and what it was like to be there to see Beachem’s explosion, Matty Farrell’s behind-the-back pass, David Rivers’ awesome Ring of Honor induction, and the student section absolutely stealing the show in the second half.
I arrived at about 11:25 AM, roughly 35 minutes to tip-off. Once I found the press box, I awkwardly found my seat, sat down, and took in the scene. It was a sold-out crowd, and the students were out in full force. I can dig that.
After both teams had warmed up and gone to the locker room, the ND leprechaun began getting some shots up himself, as “All Star” by Smashmouth (the song he always warms up to, I assume) played in the background.
He banked in multiple jumpers to the delight of the students behind the hoop, and then took an ambitious half-court shot that was pure garbage, hitting the top of the backboard and ricocheting into the student section. It’s pretty clear - this year’s mascot will not end up being the star player on the team.
After a solid national anthem from the band, the typical Cathy Richardson and Dropkick Murphys combo was unleashed, along with a beautiful, scenic video depicting various locales on Notre Dame’s campus. The student sang the opening to “Here Come the Irish” with a lot of gusto, making me well with pride and my eyes well with very embarrassing tears. I miss being in the student section for that kind of stuff.
The video board put the Noise Meter up, the crowd got to “Roaring” and nearly made it to “Cranked,” and then the game began.
Notre Dame Starters: G Matt Farrell, G Steve Vasturia, F VJ Beachem, F BONZIE COLSON, C Martinas Geben
Syracuse Starters: G Andrew White, F Tyler Lydon, G Tyus Battle, G John Gillon, and F Taurean Thompson
The game began with a quick bucket by Syracuse’s 6’9” NBA prospect Tyler Lydon, absolutely scaring me and my fellow Irish fans considering how easily that basket came for him. However, my fears were quickly allayed as VJ Beachem, definitely a wildcard at this point, nailed a pull-up, contested jumper off the bounce. “If Beachem hits a few shots, this one could go our way,” I say to myself in my head like a crazy person.
The next trip down, Matty Farrell buried a three ball, and that voice in my head took it a step further: “We’re going to win this game. Without question.”
ND extended its lead to 12-4 at the 16:28 mark after a White Steve 3-pointer and a BONZIE COLSON layup. If you’ll notice, I put BONZIE’S names in all caps, as a friend of mine suggested I do so and because at this point, the dude is an automatic double-double. He’s earned the capitalization.
During the under-16 timeout, Purcell Pavilion showed a video recapping the Chicago Cubs’ run to their World Series title last fall, and everyone got really excited and started cheering when they showed the final out in Game 7. I was very confused why this was happening, until they brought out the World Series trophy onto the court. Then, I was even more confused, but the trophy’s presence at least explained the video.
No matter what, though, it was all worth the confusion, as Purcell then blasted “Go Cubs Go” over the loudspeakers and I jammed along with everyone else to the best baseball-themed song I’ve ever heard at the Backer.
At about the 15:30 mark in the game, BONZIE assisted Martinas Geben on an alley-oop layup and it was extremely dope. I hope that combination happens a lot on alley-oops as this season continues.
VJ Beachem showed some solid defense and rebounding, Syracuse missed multiple layups, and Austin Torres mixed it up against the big boys when he was subbed into the game.
There was a stretch of ugly basketball by both teams, including an embarrassing missed dunk by Tyus Battle that should have definitely been made. At the 11:00 minute mark, Notre Dame took a 16-10 lead after a Rex Pflueger steal led to a Matty F layup at the other end.
Then, VJ Beachem decided he’d seen enough of the boring, ugly, low-scoring basketball that both teams were engaging in at the time. He received a pass in the corner and immediately executed a stutter-step move, causing his defender to fly by and giving Beachem a lane to the hoop on the baseline, which he proceeded to drive down, and take off from, as he threw down an emphatic dunk and then even proceeded to SHOW EMOTION afterward.
Immediately, the video board prompted the fans to get excited, because otherwise they would have done nothing after an awesome dunk from a player who’s been struggling. The screen said “Noise Time!” and boy, did the crowd agree that it was “Noise Time!”
Very soon after, Matty Farrell and Beachem gave us another reason to believe in “Noise Time.”
At this point, the crowd was rocking - I’d say they probably peaked at “Cranked” levels of noise on the Noise Meter. Syracuse eventually called a timeout, and during said timeout the arena was treated to the harmonious stylings of “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” As expected, the student section was mildly pleased.
The mild pleasantness turned quickly into the “Full Domer” equivalent of excitement, as the video board announced it was T-Shirt Toss Time. Everyone in the arena, from students to media to referees to Jim Boeheim, clamored for a t-shirt toss to come their way via the cheerleaders tossing them. Most of us were forced to sit back down, disappointed, however.
At about the 9-minute mark, Matt Ryan came into the game. Ryan has gotten very little playing time this season, not having found his shot too often and remaining a defensive liability on the other end. Today was no different, as Ryan played just 4 minutes and accumulated no statistics save for his 0-for-3 shooting performance.
Despite Ryan’s lack of action and contribution on the court, VJ Beachem (no stranger to having games where he offered very little out there) continued to knock down long range jumpers as the game progressed. The man was feeling it, and hit his second three in a row with 7:51 to play, giving ND a 26-14 lead that became 26-17 at the under-8 timeout.
The final 8 minutes of the first half were similar to the first 12, with Beachem hitting a smattering of shots from all over the floor while the rest of his team added hustle and heart. At one point, White Steve was slammed into the Syracuse bench while going after a loose ball, drawing a foul but definitely suffering a bit of pain on impact. No matter, though, as White Steve has proven to be a warrior, and he has two hustle-prone teammates in Pflueger and Torres who immediately sprinted over to help him up.
By the 3:40 mark, Notre Dame held a 33-22 lead and a 9-0 lead in terms of assists. I saw that statistic just before the media timeout where the video board showed us another installment of “Anatomy of a Champion,” this time about David Rivers. This segment mentioned heart, hands, and vision as the anatomy of a champion for the ND legend, and once again I must insist that the ND basketball media team look up an anatomically correct diagram of the human body so that they understand there’s more to it than those three things.
At the end of that timeout, the camera guy zoomed in on a member of the student section holding a dry-erase board sign that said something like “Tyler Lydon punts on third down.” That was a good sign.
Near the end of the half, Marty Geben had a sick block that got called a foul because the ref is jealous of his bird whispering abilities, and then Geben later proceeded to get revenge by hitting a couple free throws.
Matt Farrell made a few threes to push the lead further, and then after a Tyler Lydon airball, the student section executed a fantastic “Airball!” chant at him with an accompanying tomahawk chop hand motion. They were just getting warmed up.
Torres threw a great no-look pass to TJ Gibbs, who never expected it and thus obviously did not catch it, and then as the half ended, Matt Ryan missed a short jumper, keeping the ND lead in single digits at the half, 41-32.
Halftime Stats of Note:
Syracuse: Tyler Lydon had 12 points and 4 rebounds, Andrew White and Tyus Battle each had 9 points, and Dajuan Coleman had 5 rebounds. Oh, and Tyus Battle had one missed dunk, but everyone would soon forget about that singular dunk, for obvious reasons spelled out later in this recap. The Orange shot 37% from the field and 33% from 3-point range while racking up 8 turnovers and only 2 assists.
Notre Dame: VJ Beachem had 17 points and 4 rebounds, Matt Farrell had 11 points and 5 assists. The Irish had 11 assists and 6 turnovers, led the rebounding battle 19-17, and shot 50% and 45.2% from 3-point range and overall, respectively.
Per usual, it’s time to assess the entertainment value of the Notre Dame basketball halftime show on a scale of 1 to Red Panda.
Today’s halftime entertainment:
David Rivers Ring of Honor Induction Ceremony
The ceremony began with a really nice video shown on the video board, with plenty of former teammates, coaches, etc. talking about David Rivers. Digger Phelps said that David Rivers was the best player he ever coached at ND, and Ken Barlow (went to the same high school as me, no big deal), sporting an awesome bowtie, talked about how great of a teammate he was.
The video talked about all of Rivers’ accomplishments, and even went into detail about the car crash he and Barlow were in a few months before one season. Rivers was thrown from the passenger seat of the van they were in and suffered a 15-inch gash to his abdomen. Various people in the video said they assumed he wouldn’t be able to play that season. Instead, 90 days later, Rivers started the opener and proceeded to have a season in which he earned 3rd Team All-American honors.
After the video finished and the banner was unfurled, Rivers came out to receive a framed replica of the banner and to give a speech that he claimed he would keep to 2 minutes.
David Rivers went over his 2 minutes by a long shot, but it was so so so so so so worth it. First, he gave thanks and praise to God, and the arena erupted, because, you know, it’s a Catholic school. We love Jesus.
Then, Rivers thanked his parents, explaining that they were his first examples in life and that they taught him about faith, God, how to work hard, and how to believe. He thanked Father Hesburgh as well, for being a cornerstone of what Notre Dame is, saying there would be no Notre Dame experience for him if it weren’t for Hesburgh.
Rivers thanked Digger and his coaching staff for bringing him to ND. He spoke directly to Digger, who was standing at his normal seat on the baseline, and told Digger that he was his father away from home, his mentor, and his coach, and that he loved him. Digger was shown on the big screen and by golly the guy was getting emotional. It was powerful.
Rivers proceeded to thank his family, and talked about how they are the epitome of “bloom where you’re planted,” explaining how they thrived despite him constantly moving them around to different cities and countries for basketball.
As the clock wound down to when the players needed to come out to get a quick warmup before the 2nd half, Rivers continued talking despite Purcell Pavilion getting really rude and trying to play music to get him to finish up. Rivers thanked the academic support structure at ND and named a bunch of people who helped him get through school there, ignoring the cue to stop talking.
As the music volume was increased even further and Syracuse began to come out to warm up, David Rivers’ speech reached its climax in terms of volume and energy as he strode over to the student section and thanked them with great gusto. He kept shouting “You are the new gatekeepers! You are the new gatekeepers! Keep this place alive!” Obviously, the student section was diggin’ it. They went nuts.
David Rivers finally completed his speech, probably 10 minutes after he started, and left the court to a standing ovation. It was a very humble, gracious speech that couldn’t have displayed any better his love for his family, friends, coaches, teammates, fans, and university.
I never got to see David Rivers play. He was before my time. But damnit if he isn’t now one of my all-time favorites, just due to that speech. I loved it.
Halftime rating: 9/10. Truly stupendous. Had me standing and clapping by the end of it. A must-watch.
With all that emotion and energy thrown around at halftime, Irish fans were bound to have a bit of a letdown in the very early going of the second half. Tyler Lydon started things off with a dunk for the Orange, and then VJ Beachem got an attempted dunk blocked.
However, the Bird Whisperer himself would not allow his team to give up any more of their lead than they had, and Geben saved the loose ball off the block, leading to another possession and a sweet BONZIE jumper from the free throw line that was reminiscent of a young Tom “White Knight” Knight mid-range jumper.
That was followed up by Geben draining two more FTs (he was 5 for 6 on the day!), and another 3-pointer from Beachem, who clearly had not cooled off at halftime.
After a few more possessions, Tyus Battle missed a dunk that would have been very powerful and emphatic. We will hear more about this later, but for the record, that was his second one of the game. Soon after that missed dunk, Syracuse had what looked like a sure-fire alley-oop, only for Austin Torres to come out of nowhere and swat it away heading into a media timeout.
The crowd went bananas, and the DJ of course threw on “Sandstorm.” The fans clapped along (not sure that’s what “Sandstorm” was meant for, but okay guys) and the energy was electric in Purcell. By the end of the timeout, the band was playing “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World, which nearly had me dancing on my chair in the press box (but I didn’t, because I respect the biz too much).
With 14:24 left in the game, Tyler Roberson picked up his 4th foul. He would fit in very well with my ND Interhall team (shout out the dynasty that is Stanford B2 basketball) and with my work league team (shout out the Twin Cities Bricklaying Association), but he never followed through and picked up that 5th and final foul. There’s room to improve, young man.
As the half wore on, we saw BONZIE and White Steve execute a beautiful give-and-go with a tasteful finish by Steve, saw Beachem pull off the mini version of this Jerian Grant shot from 2015, and even got to hear “Jump Around” on the loud speakers. With 11 minutes remaining, the Irish stayed in complete control, up 60-45.
After a Matty Farrell jumper from the corner with the shot clock winding down, Beachem showed he’s more than just a 3-point shooter by blocking a Syracuse shot, getting the crowd to at least “Cranked” level again, by my own estimations.
Later, Beachem and BONZIE continued to dominate Syracuse, as Beachem rained threes continuously and BONZIE connected on a step-back jumper as the shot clock expired, pushing the Irish lead to 17 (68-51) with less than 8 minutes remaining.
Now, let’s talk about the best thing that happened in the 2nd half, maybe in the entire game.
Remember how Tyus Battle missed a couple dunks earlier in the game? Remember how I said we would come back to that?
Tyus Battle went to the free throw line after being fouled late in the 2nd half. Notre Dame was up big, and yet the student section, clearly still pushing forward due to David Rivers’ inspiring speech, put together an unbelievable defensive stand all on their own.
As Battle went through his free throw routine before his first shot, the student section began chanting.
“TWO. MISSED. DUNKS! TWO. MISSED. DUNKS!”
Battle acted unfazed, but missed the first free throw, clearly rattled to his very core.
The student section erupted.
Then, as he prepared for his second one, the student section decided to forget the missed dunks, and threw out another new chant.
“ONE. MISSED. FREE THROW! ONE. MISSED. FREE THROW!”
Noticeably shaken, Battle missed the second free throw, and again the student section went nuts.
They began chanting “TWO MISSED FREE THROWS!” every time Battle touched the ball, and at one point just chanted “Tyyyyuusssss” in a sing-song way not unlike this classic taunt:
Battle finally hit a free throw later (which the student section raucously applauded), but nonetheless, that sequence of chants and events was fantastic and made the second half much more exciting than it really was.
The Irish continued to hold a lead between 15 and 20 points the rest of the way, and with 5:12 remaining, owned a 73-56 lead. In between that point and the 84-66 final score, fans got to see Tyler Lydon deflect a Notre Dame pass with his foot into the first row at a high velocity, Rex Pflueger bank in a 3-pointer, Rex Pflueger do a little shimmy while begging with the ref for a travel call on the Orange instead of a foul on him, Beachem and BONZIE doing some odd handholding thing while they lined up for some free throws, White Steve getting double digits in points, and a solid “NIT! NIT!” chant by the students, directed at the now 11-9 Syracuse Orange.
With the final seconds ticking away, the student section broke into a unified, powerful “WE ARE! ND!” chant to send Boeheim and his boys packing. And as someone who can’t stand when the Leprechaun Legion used to chant that at random times, especially during stretches of games when ND was getting beaten by opponents, it made me very happy and proud to see the chant used correctly and non-embarrassingly at the conclusion of a strong victory.
Final Stats of Note:
Syracuse: Tyler Lydon finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, Tyus Battle had 17 points to go along with his 2 missed dunks and 2 missed free throws, and Andrew White added 16 points. The Orange finished with 8 assists, 11 turnovers, and shot 42% from the field (32% from 3-point range).
Notre Dame: VJ Beachem finished with a career-high 30 points (most points by an ND player since BONZIE’s 30 against Duke last season) and 7 rebounds, Matty Farrell chipped in a modest 15 points and 9 assists, BONZIE had his 12th double-double of the season with a solid 14 and 14, and White Steve put up 11 points and 4 assists in a low-key solid effort. Marty Geben had 7 points, 4 rebounds, and unfortunately 0 dunks (although he had that alley-oop layup, so that counts for something). The Irish shot 49% from the floor, 42% from 3, and made 15 of 16 free throws, all while racking up 20 assists and just 11 turnovers against Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.
Very Important Stray Thoughts and Observations
- During a timeout, I saw two Syracuse fans taking what, at first glance, looked like the typical picture two people would take with the field/court behind them in order to have a great souvenir picture from their road trip. However, I then noticed the ND Pom Squad was doing their thing in the background, so I’m now inclined to think that was definitely on purpose. Sly move, Orange fans...
- Speaking of the Pom Squad, I still can’t get over this philosophical debate I keep having with myself about what they become if they toss aside their pom poms, as they did again in one timeout performance today. Please please please chime in in the comments section with what you think. Is a pom squad without pom poms just a squad?? Is their identity completely based on those things, or is there more to a pom squad???
- When the cheerleaders were leading fans in that chant where one side of the arena says “GO” and the other side says “IRISH!”, there was a student in the student section holding up a Mike Brey cardboard cutout and leading them in the chant. Well, in a chant. When the GO IRISH chant subsided, the students continued theirs, and I realized they were literally just chanting “MIKE! BREY! MIKE! BREY!” over and over again. It was very audible and very very fantastic. ND cheerleaders should switch to that chant permanently
- The video board put up some fun facts about sophomore Elijah Burns, and it said that he went to the same high school as Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva. This is awesome information to know and also probably never use in my life
- Here are some of my favorite #IrishVision tweets that I saw on the video board today:
This baby’s face, which will haunt me for all eternity...
#Irishvision Boycotting oranges at snack time today pic.twitter.com/j5arIJeCHm— Tommy Walz (@tommygun1215) January 21, 2017
This tweet, from a guy who calls himself the “Grand Marshall of the Peanut Gallery,” proclaiming the picture in the tweet is a picture of two legends...One of them is David Rivers (valid), and one of them is a guy named Ray whose claim to fame is being a season ticket holder (validity pending)...
Two Irish Legends -- Season Ticket Holder Ray Koza & Irish great David Rivers. Go Irish! #IrishVision ☘ pic.twitter.com/KrMmufgnga— Dillon Allie (@dallie79) January 21, 2017
White Steve being the absolute best, once again.
#IrishVision— Jeff Curry (@JeffCurryxpo) January 21, 2017
Look who is photo bombing pic.twitter.com/ubFzNEeuUI
- At one point, a VJ Beachem three pointer got the crowd going nuts. However, when the Noise Meter was shown, the level of noise never got past “Roaring.” What in the world does it take for these fans to get to a sustained level of “Cranked,” and do you think they’ll ever get to “Full Domer”?
- Speaking of Beachem - it’s absolutely fantastic to have him back and playing with confidence and attitude again. I hope he’s here to stay, because if so, I don’t think there’s a team in the country ND can’t hang with
- I Googled Ray Koza and found no evidence of him being a legend. Not even of him having been to Legends, although he probably has if he’s a season ticket holder. Either way, it’s a bit of a stretch, Mr. Grand Marshall of the Peanut Gallery
Okay, that’s all I’ve got for this one. If you are still reading this, you’ve wasted a lot of time.
Oh, also, I guess thank you for reading all of this. I appreciate it and I love you.