To be honest, we should have seen it coming.
I, personally, was foolish to predict a win. ND hasn’t had a bad shooting game yet in ACC play (I am a sucker for the “they’re due” philosophy). They were about to host a team that makes its living shutting people down, and who has made a living shutting ND down, thanks to coach Tony Bennett’s defensive instruction. (The Cavaliers have held the typically high-scoring Irish to an average of 55.6 points per game in their 5 ACC meetings).
The Fighting Irish couldn’t hit anything last night. Part of it was very good defense, but even more of it was just ND not hitting shots. They got open looks. They got their shooters open. They even took it to the hoop a bit. The ball just refused to go in the basket.
With that said, Virginia outplayed ND and showed why they’re considered such a formidable team every year under Bennett. So, without belaboring the point any more, here’s my first-hand account from the media floor seats. It was a fun game to be at, despite the eventual blowout of Notre Dame’s tires.
Before the game, there was a solid buzz. The arena was filling up with excited fans, and this was especially true in the student section, which was completely full when I arrived about 45 minutes before tip-off.
As I scanned the student section, I found my favorite person who wears Gumby costumes to the games, and waited patiently to see what he would do throughout the contest. I’ll be honest, his performance seemed to be lacking early on as he was being a very reserved version of Gumby. He made up for it in a big way when he joined a student across the aisle (TAKE NOTE, POLITICIANS) to synchronize on a pelvic thrust dance on the Dance Cam. It was a beautiful moment.
As the teams shot around, the video board played one of those long commercials they show during football games about the great education you can get at Notre Dame. I spotted my former Stanford Griffin dorm mate and ping pong rival Arnav Dutt getting a little screen time, along with a few other people I recognized from my glory days 4 years ago. Shout out to Arnav, who is - I’m pretty sure - the greatest Quiz Bowl player in Stanford history. Hope you’re doing well, man.
With Virginia warming up in front of me, I got a good look at their team during pregame as well. I’d describe this team as longer, more athletic, and more bored-looking than I would have thought. The exception was fellow Indy native Kyle Guy, who looks exactly like I thought he would, with a man bun out in full force. That man bun will be crucial to enjoying this game later on, so stay tuned for an explanation there.
I began to zone out for a bit while thinking of creative ways to make fun of Kyle Guy’s hair hump in this article, when a Virginia player proceeded to throw down a 360-degree, one-handed dunk that made me literally jump in my seat. I was now a tad scared that this team was better than I thought.
The video board showed an ad for und.com/upgrades and claimed it was a site you could go to in order to upgrade your game experience. The ad featured a smirking Matty Farrell standing in full uniform in a sideways stance. I have no idea what it means to upgrade your experience, but I’m not too sold based on this ad.
The leprechaun got some shots up before the teams came back out, and proceeded to go 2-for-5 from the field and 1-for-4 from 3 while I watched. Although not exactly setting the world on fire, the dude definitely could have been useful to an ND team that shot 17 percent from long range on the night. I’d say this was a huge improvement from Saturday’s half court shot debacle:
little recap on my performance at yesterday's game. the bank was briefly open but quickly closed @OneFootDown pic.twitter.com/wGvPjK0nIV— Joe Fennessy (@NDirish_Lep) January 22, 2017
After the leprechaun finished his shoot-around, I scanned the student section again, with my gaze landing on a young man in the front row sporting a gold football helmet and a #11 Demetrius Jackson jersey. This outfit was pretty fitting considering another former #11 who wore a gold helmet, Thomas Kevin Rees, was just announced as the new QB coach for Notre Dame football. Good to see he’s already got supporters in the student body.
Another observation regarding the student section: the dry erase board kid was on-point again. The one I could read from across the way said “Wilkins can’t smell what The Rock is cookin” and I’m positive the rest of his signs throughout the contest were just as strong, although I was unable to see most of them.
Yet another observation about the student section: they’ve got big cardboard cutout heads for almost everyone on the team at this point. Here’s my breakdown of each:
Marty Geben: This was the first one I saw and it made me grin from ear to ear because I never expected this guy to be a big enough contributor to get a cardboard cutout.
BONZIE COLSON: This one was by far the biggest in size, which I felt was very fitting.
White Steve: For some reason his cutout includes his torso along with his head. No idea why but I like that his is different.
Rex Pflueger: His looks angry or upset. This is fitting, Rex is an emotional dude on the court and I like that.
V.J. Beachem and Matt Farrell: Their cardboard heads were both fairly small, and the students holding them aloft were doing a poor job of flaunting them for everyone to see. This correlated to - nay, caused - the two of them going a combined 4 for 16 from the field on the evening.
Mike Brey: His includes a torso too (maybe this means White Steve is like the coach on the court??), and the students had placed a real life ND visor on the head of it for an added effect. It was a solid addition.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to the middle aged guys who were sitting near the tunnel where the teams come out. They stood there, leaned in, and tried to high-five all the ND players as they came out of the tunnel. That’s not weird or embarrassing at all.
Notre Dame Starters: G Matt Farrell, G Steve Vasturia, F VJ Beachem, F BONZIE COLSON, C Martinas Geben
Virginia Starters: G London Perrantes, G Devon Hall, F Isaiah Wilkins, F Marial Shayok, C Jack Salt
The half began with the noise meter displayed on the video board and measured the crowd as “roaring.” This was accurate, in my opinion.
Shayok got the scoring started with a step-back jumper, but ND later followed it up with a beautiful pass from Farrell on the run to BONZIE, who finished underneath and prompted an absolute explosion of newspaper confetti from the student section. Love it.
The UVA fan section of about 20 people in the upper deck began a chant of “U-V-A!” but were quickly drowned out by the students chanting “Let’s go Irish!” The UVA fans would not be drowned out late in the game, though, as the Cavaliers pulled away from the Irish with ease late in the second half.
After another bucket by Virginia and a White Steve three-ball, the score was a measly 5-4 in favor of the Irish at the first media timeout. The two teams then traded a lot of empty possessions plus a couple buckets, and by the time Wilkins got a tip-slam to put Virginia up 12-7, the game was already 6 minutes old.
A reserve on Virginia named Jarred Reuter came in at one point, and got cocky as he attempted to post up Austin Torres. Torres is a wily veteran, though, and made the sophomore look foolish, forcing a traveling violation.
The rest of the half passed in similar fashion, with the Fighting Irish missing lots of shots and Virginia slowly getting buckets without looking very impressive themselves on offense. It was 14-7 at the under-12 timeout, and it wasn’t until about the 10:40 mark that the Irish finally got 1 of 2 free throws from BONZIE to push their total past 7.
With the score at 16-10 near the 8-minute mark, White Steve found himself guarded by Virginia guard Ty Jerome. Steve sized him up and launched from deep, drilling one in Jerome’s face and bringing the Irish to within three, 16-13. Jerome would get some revenge later, but for now, White Steve had exerted his dominance over the freshman guard.
During a timeout soon after, the cheerleaders came out for that lovely “GO!” “IRISH!” chant that alternates sides of the arena, but for the second straight game the student section came through for me, executing a very loud “MIKE!” “BREY!” chant that eventually drowned out the rest of the fans and appeared to cut the cheerleaders a bit short on their cheer. This was fantastic news to me, as many of my friends knew.
Let it be known the student section just chanted "MIKE! BREY!" Instead of " GO! IRISH!" Thank you @Psully226— CT Montijo (@ctmontijo3) January 25, 2017
A bit later, the student section began chanting “WE WANT KYLE” at the Virginia bench, wanting Kyle Guy to be brought back out so that they could continue to make fun of his man bun.
With the score still 16-13, BONZIE managed to hit an and-one shot that rolled around the rim for a bit, before dropping in and unleashing an extremely loud cheer from the fans. It was at least “cranked,” and might have even been “full Domer” for a fleeting moment. The crowd was ready to get rowdy.
As the first half came to a close, the student section got some good “MAN BUN!” chants in at Kyle Guy, we were all treated to a fantastic left-handed pass from Matty F to set up BONZIE for a go-ahead bucket, and London Perrantes began to hit a few shots from deep, causing concern in any and all ND fans.
During another timeout, a student got on the video board holding a sign that said “London Perrantes is bad at things” and it made me happy, even if it definitely isn’t true about basketball being one of those things he is bad at. Also, neither is having very tall hair.
BONZIE tied the score at 22 with less than 3 minutes in the half, giving him 14 of the team’s 22 points at that time. Matt Ryan checked in and immediately scored on an inbound play wherein the defense forgot where he was on the court, and then the next time down White Steve took the ball to the hoop strong and gave ND a 26-25 lead with 45 seconds left in the half. This would be the final time the Irish led in the game.
The crowd was certifiably “cranked” at this point according to the noise meter, and I thought they might even sustain a level of “full Domer” if ND got one last stop to end the half. Unfortunately, Shayok had a nice drive for 2 and Virginia led at the half, 27-26.
Virginia Stats: London Perrantes had 10 points, Devon Hall had 7, Marial Shayok had 6. The Cavaliers shot 44.4 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3. They did not shoot any free throws in the first half.
ND Stats: BONZIE had 14 points but somehow no rebounds, White Steve had 8 points and 3 assists, VJ Beachem had 0 points on 4 shots. The Irish shot 44 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3. They made 2 of 3 free throw attempts.
We had another two-part halftime for this game, with a quick presentation and then the featured act immediately after it.
The presentation was another recognition of an outstanding fan, this time being young super-fan Maddox Snyder, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 11. He’s been through a bunch of chemotherapy and was given a commemorative autographed team basketball. Also, his favorite players on the team are Rex Pflueger and Austin Torres — that is something I very much respect.
Rating on a scale of 1 to Red Panda: 9/10...docked a point because of the below:
After the touching recognition of Maddox, the video board immediately flipped to an advertisement telling fans to head to section 101 to see about ticket packages, group pricing, etc. This seemed ill-timed and probably could have been shown at any other time than right after Snyder’s cool moment at center court.
This brings us to the main event, the Sandou Trio Russian Bar Acrobats.
Essentially what their act is is this very acrobatic woman doing cool tricks on these bars that two guys hold for her, with all three of these people wearing what look like blue and white tie-dye prison jumpsuits with the sleeves cut off.
One of the bars is longer and wider and has some give when they hold it on their shoulders, allowing the woman to complete some cool jumps, flips, spins, etc. It essentially looks like a mix of a balance beam and a slack line, and the woman showed off for the crowd by nailing some high leaps, dizzying backflips and double backflips, and her final trick, a really cool hybrid of spins and flips that I would characterize as a “spinny flip.”
The trio also brought out a smaller, skinnier, more taut bar that she used to complete some handstands, do some cool balance and hanging tricks with her legs and pelvic region, etc.
Overall, it was okay but never really had me saying “wow.”
Rating on a scale of 1 to Red Panda: 6.5/10
The Purcell DJ got us started in the 2nd half by blasting Archie Eversole’s classic “We Ready,” but the student section didn’t get nearly as hype as they should. This was disappointing and was clearly a bad omen for what was to come.
Notre Dame came out flat to start the half, with Virginia pulling out to a 32-26 lead after just a couple minutes of play. Matty Farrell buried a three to make it 32-29, but as they did for essentially the remainder of the game, Virginia quickly responded with a bucket.
V.J. Beachem hit his first and only shot of the game soon after, making an and-one fadeaway jumper after backing his man down. Beachem did not shoot well (1 for 10 on the day, 0 for 5 from 3), but I didn’t think he played that badly overall, especially compared to that stretch that ended with Louisville and him looking completely disinterested in shooting the ball. V.J. hunted his shot in this one and had a lot of good looks, he just couldn’t hit them (neither could anyone else on the team). I thought his defensive and rebounding efforts were better than they have been, and so it wasn’t as bad of a performance as it looked on paper. I think he’ll be all right, but his streakiness from game to game has gotta be concerning to Mike Brey going forward.
At about the 16-minute mark, the Irish pulled to within 1 after a Matty Farrell three-point play. Isaiah Wilkins, though, answered the bell by draining a mid-range jump shot to make it 38-35. After a White Steve left-handed finish in traffic to make it 38-37 with less than 15 to play, Beachem got one of his 3 blocks on the night, swatting a Jack Salt shot and forcing me to put this video in my article (sorry about the language, Mom!).
After another Perrantes three pointer and BONZIE again splitting a one-and-one, the Irish trailed 43-38 with about 13 minutes left. ND then switched from a zone defense that was seemingly only helping give Perrantes open jumpers to a man-to-man look, and immediately T.J. Gibbs came up with a steal. That only led to a missed Beachem 3-pointer, though, and during the next timeout, as the crowd basically just got to “noisy” on the Noise Meter (weak sauce), it was becoming clearer and clearer that it wasn’t the Irish’s night. Virginia was winning the rebounding battle 24-17 (they’d go on to win it 28-22) and was holding ND to 21 percent shooting from 3-point range (it would later sink to a little less than 17 percent).
The Cavaliers pushed their lead to 7 by the 12-minute mark, but Gibbs and BONZIE persisted in getting buckets to bring the Irish to within 5. After forcing a shot clock violation, ND had the ball down 47-42, looking to close the gap to a one-possession deficit. Unfortunately, Ryan missed a three (and also missed getting BONZIE the ball in a mismatch against Perrantes down low).
Perrantes hit another three, and after a Pflueger jumper made it 50-44 with 9 minutes left, Mike Brey called a timeout to rally his troops once more. It didn’t work, though, as Virginia’s Ty Jerome hit his first three of the night to make it a 9-point game. White Steve subsequently drew a foul and did a neat backwards somersault on the next Irish possession, hitting both his free throws to make it 53-46. The next trip down he once again drew a foul and hit his shots to make it 53-48 with about 7:15 to play.
After those free throws, Purcell was probably at its loudest for the night, as the crowd willed the team to continue chipping away at Virginia’s lead. Beachem got another block, but Virginia ended up drawing a foul and making one of two shots, up 6 at that point. BONZIE got fouled on the rebound for the second free throw, and proceeded to make one of two shots.
ND then got a couple more chances to get over the 5-point deficit hump, with Beachem missing another 3 and Pflueger turning a fantastic steal and fast break into a missed layup. Jerome hit an absolutely devastating three to make it 57-49, and although ND cut it to 57-51 the next time down, Jerome came back with a runner in the lane and the Cavaliers didn’t look back.
Matty Farrell, Mr. Automatic from the free throw line, missed two free throws with the Irish down 59-51, and Perrantes got a second-chance three on the next possession to push the lead to 11 with just under 4 minutes to play.
The rest of the game was a mix of ND frantically trying to score in any way and failing almost every time to do so, and Virginia slowly adding to its lead until the final score of 71-54 was reached.
Virginia final stats: Perrantes had 22 points and 5 rebounds, Wilkins had 13 points and 9 rebounds, Hall had 11 points and 9 rebounds, Shayok added 10 points, and Jerome had 8 crucial points that gave Virginia the lead it needed to coast to a big road win. The Cavaliers shot 46 percent from the field, 47 percent from 3, and 86 percent from the free throw line.
ND final stats: BONZIE had 20 points, 3 blocks, and 3 rebounds, White Steve had 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and Farrell had just 8 points and 5 assists. Beachem finished with only 3 points on 1-for-10 shooting, 2 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The Fighting Irish shot 42 percent from the field, 17 percent from 3, and an abysmal 65 percent from the charity stripe.
- There were quite a few vocal fans behind the media section I sat in, but one guy in particular treated us to some very entertaining commentary on the game. Some of his gems: yelling “OH MY WORD!” after a call he didn’t like, yelling “CHECK YOUR PHONE, REF, YOU’RE MISSING LOTS OF CALLS!” after a call he didn’t like, and yelling “TECHNICAL!” when a Virginia player very politely asked a referee about a foul that was just called on him. Good stuff, all-around.
- V.J. Beachem needed 13 points to get 1,000 for his career. He got 3. I really feel for this kid, because he keeps pinballing from fantastic performance to atrocious performance, at least scoring-wise. I hope he gets it going again against Georgia Tech and next week against Duke, if only for his confidence’s sake as he strings a couple good games together.
- I don’t think I’ve ever felt less confident in the Irish coming up with loose balls as I did during this game. It felt like every bounce went Virginia’s way, and the ND team couldn’t grab the ball to save their lives.
- Tony Bennett’s sneakers he was wearing were fresh as hell.
- Didn’t realize until mid-game, but the Gumby person in the student section is in the band. And he’s a drummer. Gonna need a Drumline-esque solo at some point, Gumby.
- Speaking of Gumby, although his display of pelvic thrusts with that friend from across the aisle was great, the Dance Cam Performance of the Game goes to the guy who was in a sling for some sort of arm injury but who wasn’t letting that stop him from dancing like a fool. I respect the hustle, sir. Third place goes to the person in a giraffe onesie who was the only person in their section up and dancing. It was lonely and sad and beautiful all at once, and finishing off the Dance Cam with a giraffe dab was a nice touch.
- Someone had a very good sign of a T-Rex body with Rex Pflueger’s head where the head of the dinosaur should be. I liked it.
- Shout out to all the old people who I saw leaving with 3:37 left in the game. I know ND ended up losing by 17 and at the time it was already an 11-point game, but the way this team has performed the past 2.5 years should be enough to earn a full two hours of everyone’s attention. Hell, we all saw that 2013 Louisville game - you never know what can happen. Also, I wonder if those people stayed the whole game for a 4-8 football team this year. If so, I’d love to know why they needed to beat traffic instead of supporting their 14th-ranked basketball team for a full game.
- My favorite tweets from the game:
Love bringing the founding fathers into this:
Thomas Jefferson likes us better #GoIrish #IrishVision pic.twitter.com/1CMHy88eDw— Andrew Slattery (@Slatts53) January 25, 2017
This tweet that isn’t relevant to the game but just proves how amazing Jon Rothstein is at tweeting about college basketball:
Caleb "Biggie" Swanigan just dropped 25 and 17 on Michigan State. Continues to be NOTORIOUS for posting double-doubles. A real JUICY player.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 25, 2017
This picture Pete Sampson tweeted that I made it into:
Tipoff of Notre Dame-Virginia imminent. Should be a good one. pic.twitter.com/rz7j6CjdiC— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) January 25, 2017
- Final stray observation: The Ring of Honor is just an arc. All the players who have been added have banners on one side of the ceiling of the arena. It should be called the Arc of Honor and I refuse to call it anything else anymore.
Okay, that’s enough dwelling on sad, disappointing games by a really fun team who hadn’t had a truly bad game until this one. Let’s move forward and hope the Irish bounce back in a big way on the road against a tough Georgia Tech team.