Another matchup between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Louisville Cardinals produces a classic finish.
Notre Dame senior Steve Vasturia nailed a clutch jumper in the final minute of the second half to seal a statement win for the Irish, who upset ninth-ranked Louisville 77-70 in South Bend.
Vasturia would finish with a game-high 24 points, while Matt Farrell pitched in 22 of his own. Bonzie Colson posted his usual double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds to counter Louisville’s overwhelming height beneath the rim.
The Irish opened the first half strong, attacking the rim against an elite Cardinals’ defense to build a ten point lead in the game’s first ten minutes. Colson and Martinas Geben gave the Cardinals’ bigs a tough battle in the paint, while senior Austin Torres followed suit off the bench, making the most of his usually limited minutes.
However, the always quickly moving Cardinals cut the lead to one in the blink of an eye, using their full-court press defense to generate turnovers and score in transition. Louisville, also one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, capitalized on their second chances by draining a pair of threes following an offensive board. It all culmunated in an 8-0 run for the Cardinals, the 29th time Rick Pitino’s squad has went on a run of at least eight straight points this season.
Louisville junior Anas Mahmoud had his fingerprints all over the Cardinals’ defensive effort, recording four blocks in the first half which resulted in transition buckets for the Cards. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell led the team with 20 points, but shot just 2-10 from downtown.
Farrell and the Irish would weather the storm and force the Cardinals into a number of offensive fouls in the paint and headed to the locker room with a 42-37 lead.
The circus briefly came to town just two minutes into the game when Farrell hoisted up a straightaway floater from three-point range as the shot clock expired, and somehow (perhaps with the luck of the Irish) hit nothing but net.
Vasturia clearly carried his momentum over from Saturday’s win, netting 12 points in the first half while shooting 5-7 from the field. On the other side of the spectrum, V.J. Beachem continued his puzzling absence from the Irish offensive attack as he pulled off a disappearing act in the first half in which he failed to record a field goal attempt. He would finish with just two points on the night.
Notre Dame came out flying in the second half and built their lead to nine by hitting four of their first five shots of the half. The lead could have been more if not for some turnovers at the wrong time, as the Irish still haven’t been able to shake the turnover bug after a stellar start to the season in that department. They finished with 12 giveaways on the night.
However, with every push by Louisville, Notre Dame provided a response. The Cardinals gradually used their tenacious defense to claw their way to a 68-68 tie with two minutes remaining in the second half, but this time, the Irish would not fall victim to another second half breakdown.
The Irish did encounter a field goal drought that spanned almost five minutes in the second half, but stayed in the game thanks to frequent trips to the free throw line, including two straight visits to the charity stripe after Louisville tied the game, giving the Irish a three point lead with 1:05 remaining.
After flexing some tough defense of their own by forcing a key turnover with less than a minute on the clock, the Irish turned to their leader Vasturia, who hit a tough running floater with under 20 seconds left on the game clock to end the field goal drought.
Farrell and Colson iced it at the free throw line to give the Irish the victory and their best win of the season. The Irish, now 2-0 to start ACC play, will remain at home for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Clemson. The Cardinals can finally exhale after their brutal four game stretch against four ranked opponents, and will take on Georgia Tech on Saturday as well.