Before I jump into things, let me just remind everyone why I call him White Steve so that we don’t upset anyone:
WHITE BOY STEVE COMING IN THE CLUTCH!!!— Torii Hunter Jr. (@THunterJr) January 29, 2015
I don’t call him the exact phrase Torii Hunter Jr. used in a tweet from two years ago because, of course, he is not White Boy Steve. If he is any three-word phrase, he is White Man Steve. But for the sake of being pithy, let’s just call him White Steve.
Now, as for the game - this thing had it all. From Digger Phelps yelling things extremely loudly to a smattering of friends around Purcell before the game (more on that to come), to Matty Farrell continuing to cement himself as a legitimate All-American candidate, to Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud doing an incredible impression of Manute Bol if Manute Bol were a pirate (definitely more on that to come), it was an incredibly impressive, entertaining game between two of the best teams in the ACC.
So, without any more ambiguous jokes about random things that happened during the game, let’s jump into my recap from the media section, wherein they have unwittingly now given me credentials to sit 3 times this season.
I was able to get into Purcell about an hour before game time, and this allowed me to get a feel for the electricity in the air before this matchup between top-25 teams. With no students on campus and a late tip-off time of 9 pm, it’s definitely been fuller and louder in there. However, Purcell Pavilion still drew a solid crowd that managed to get loud even when the video board wasn’t displaying the “Noise Meter,” which is, in my opinion, the most telling fact about this game’s crowd performance.
Adding to the growing excitement and mystique of the evening was Digger Phelps, again sitting in the row in front of me and wearing a Southold Dance Theater t-shirt. I haven’t been here since November, but he was wearing a different shirt touting that theater’s name then as well, so it really must be something special.
Digger wasn’t content to sit quietly and prepare for the game while supporting Southold Dance Theater, though. That’s never been his way. Instead, Digger found every person he knows in the arena and managed to talk to them, or in many cases, yell things at them.
“WHERE’S THE PIZZA?!?” is just one thing Digger shouted at a guy who I think was a cameraman. Following that amazing outburst, Digger then turned around and started applauding while loudly proclaiming: “Pete Burns in the house! Let’s hear it for Pete Burns! Pete Burns in the house!”
I didn’t know who that was (turns out Pete Burns founded the pop band “Dead or Alive” in the ‘80s - also he died in October) or how to react to this clearly joking proclamation, so I chuckled and clapped along half-heartedly with him and then pretended to be focused on my laptop screen. Digger called someone behind me “JV” but I don’t know who it was, and I was afraid to whip around and find out, out of fear of being noticed and called “JV” myself by the coaching legend.
Eventually, as the teams warmed up, I got to see a lot of Louisville’s best players dunk really cool dunks, and also got to see freshman guard Tyler Sharpe airball a finger-roll layup. It was 25 minutes until tip-off, and he was clearly ready to go, but surprisingly he never saw the court. I bet Pitino regrets that decision.
In the warmups just before the tip, Martinas Geben dunked. I totally called it in staff picks. This is clearly a sign that my other predictions would turn out to be true as well. Sort of. Some players didn’t quite follow through with what I promised.
Rudy Reyes sang a beautiful national anthem, they played Cathy Richardson (with Digger shouting to the refs to start the game all the while), and soon the two teams were ready to clash on the court.
ND Starters: G Matt Farrell of Siegfried Hall, G Steve Vasturia of Siegfried Hall, F VJ Beachem of Stanford Hall (shout out to my fellow Griffins), F Bonzie Colson of Siegfried Hall, and C Martinas Geben of Dillon Hall
Side note: why is Siegfried so overrepresented here? What gives?
Louisville - G Quentin Snider, F Ray Spalding, C Anas Mahmoud, G Donovan Mitchell, and F Deng Adel
The game began with the jumbotron displaying the “Noise Meter,” which is the graphic they use to coax the fans into getting louder and louder to amp up big moments. At tip-off time, the noise reached “Roaring” but failed to make it to “Cranked” and “Full Domer.” By the end of the game, unofficial reports (me and my dumb opinions) would say otherwise.
ND started fast, taking a quick 8-2 lead out of the gate thanks to White Steve draining a 3-ball and sinking a runner in the lane, sandwiched around a shot clock-beating Matty Farrell prayer of a three-pointer that he shot on the run, basically with one hand.
From there the Irish continued to best the Cardinals, as Farrell found ways to get into the lane and make shots despite Louisville’s endless supply of tall, skinny guys that lie in wait near the hoop, and as Bonzie “Motherfucking” Colson began a great day of drawing fouls and playing strong among the trees despite his 6’5” stature.
Marty “Bird Whisperer” Geben took a charge, VJ Beachem added next to nothing, and TJ Gibbs continued to display why he deserves more playing time as he found ways to penetrate and dish to teammates, creating scoring opportunities.
At about the 12-minute mark, Austin “Unsung Hero 4 Lyfe” Torres entered the game to mix it up down low and provide some hustle, rebounding, and fouling. He decided to do a lot more than that, though, stealing Louisville’s inbounds pass immediately upon entering the game, and then following up on a Gibbs miss on the other end to get the put-back bucket.
Rick Pitino had seen enough at that point, and instituted his patented Pitino pressure on the poor Irish point guards. Alliteration aside, for the most part the Fighting Irish handled the press with relative ease, as Farrell and Gibbs and Vasturia and Pflueger handled the ball relatively well (not by ND standards, but certainly by Louisville opponent standards).
This ability to get through the pressure and to blow by the extended Cardinals defense allowed the Irish to drive the ball to the hoop, and even Austin Torres got in on the action, executing a beautiful dribble-drive to the basket in which he got fouled and made both free throws (!) before coming out of the game to strong applause from the fans.
Soon after, Matty Farrell found himself guarded by all 7 feet and 215 pounds of Anas Mahmoud, taking him off the dribble to the hoop and nailing a circus shot over him, causing all the women in the building to swoon and the men to begin bawling.
Mahmoud, ever on the prowl for blocked shots (he swatted 6 shots total in this game!), quickly made up for being bested by Farrell, demolishing a Gibbs runner and establishing his presence at the rim.
Side note: Mahmoud is the sneakiest 7-foot shot blocker I’ve ever seen. I would constantly lose where he was while watching ND players drive to the basket, and then his long, tall, skinny frame would emerge from nothingness to swat the shots to smithereens. I can respect that.
Dumber, but more important, side note: Mahmoud had some sort of bandage above his left eye, and from afar it looked black with a little bit of white in it, and thus like an eye patch. Add that to the red and black uniform, and Anas Mahmoud could not have looked more like a 7’0” pirate if he had tried. He kinda runs like he has peg legs too. I’m just saying, he looks like he’s heading to Stanford Hall’s annual Pirate Dance. Good call, Anas. It’s a great time.
Louisville proceeded to go on an 11-2 run to make it 25-24 with 7:37 left to play in the first half, and then after another Cardinals bucket made it 25-26 and a 13-2 run, Bonzie finally got a shot to fall, regaining the lead for ND.
The rest of the half was pretty evenly matched, with White Steve draining another three, Marty Geben shooting a shot straight into the air because he either didn’t have a good grip on the ball or because he forgot how to shoot a basketball, Matty Farrell somehow missing a free throw but also earning the respect of all the coaches in the world when he pump faked on a three pointer in order to draw the 3-shot foul, and Bonzie taking Pirate Mahmoud to school because no one can stop Bonzie, not even a pirate, shot-blocking behemoth.
Around the one-minute mark, White Steve had a foul called on him for executing a box-out of his man that was too perfect. I completely agreed with the call. It just wasn’t natural, it was a perfect box-out technique.
White Steve proceeded to be so spooked out by his perfect box-out that he attempted to guard his man backwards the next time down, and predictably that led to a Louisville dunk.
As the first half ended with Notre Dame leading 42-37, something to note was that Beachem, as I mentioned earlier, contributed essentially nothing. He had not attempted a shot, and his stat line during his 16 minutes of play consisted of 2 rebounds and a personal foul, clearly trying for Mark Titus’ famed “trillion” game but even failing miserably at that. It’s unclear how Beachem lost all of his confidence and fire so quickly, but he looks lost and disinterested and timid, resembling nothing of the player he was last March. Mike Brey has his work cut out for him there.
Austin Torres continues to be the best teammate and hype man ever, staying on the court when the first half clock expired in order to high-five all of his friends as they headed to the locker room for halftime.
Louisville: Donovan Mitchell had 16 points, Snider had 8, and Pirate Mahmoud had already put the fear of God into ND shooters 4 times with blocked shots.
For ND, Farrell had 13 points, Vasturia had 12 points and 4 rebounds, and Bonzie was well on his way to yet another double-double with 11 points and 6 rebounds.
Oh, and the Fighting Irish were out-rebounding the Cardinals 20-15, which was definitely not expected considering Louisville’s tremendous size advantage. That was definitely a stat that gave Irish fans confidence heading into the second half.
Per usual, I will now review the halftime show, comparing it to the greatest halftime show of all-time, Red Panda.
This game’s halftime featured a short presentation before the main event.
ND presented a FAN OF THE GAME award to an older gentleman named Stephen Gumz. He has attended tons of ND basketball games in his life, including the arena’s first game in 1968 and the upsets in 1964 and 1977 against UCLA and San Francisco. He has an awesome name and loves Notre Dame basketball, so I support this award ceremony and wish I had gotten to see more of Stephen Gumz.
The headliner for halftime was a performance by 9-time world champion juggler Ivan Pecel of Los Angeles.
When they announced the act, I immediately prepped myself to be disappointed by a mediocre display of projectile tossing and catching, and for the most part, I was correct.
Ivan began his act with small yellow balls, first juggling three of them (yawn) before adding two more and incorporating some spins and footwork and behind-the-back juggling into the routine.
At one point, he catches one of the balls on the back of his neck, which was clearly Ivan paying homage to the Italians in Kicking and Screaming.
He also balances a ball on his face as he juggles the rest, but all I could think while he performed was “where on earth are the chainsaws he will use in his grand finale? I need some danger!”
After catching one of the balls backwards and through his legs like some sort of freaky acrobat juggler monster, he switches to a tube of tennis balls, which he then juggles (3 balls plus the plastic tube). Meanwhile, I begin to listen to the music he is using for his act, which reminds me very much of the music in the PS2 game Time Splitters 2. Digger is not so nostalgic as me during the act, not even paying attention to Ivan’s antics.
Then, Ivan finally moves to his big ending, and from out of his suitcase or trunk or whatever he brought out onto the court he pulls out a KNIFE AND A HATCHET AND A BOWLING BALL. He proceeds to juggle those all together briefly, and then is greeted with lukewarm applause as he exits the stage.
I thought the ending was fantastic, although my hot take here is that it would have been much cooler if he had accidentally hurt himself with one of those dangerous items and then juggled through the pain, finding a way to finish the routine in triumphant fashion with his pride intact, similar to the below example:
However, the majority of the routine was not jaw-dropping or death-defying, and so I have to settle for giving him a 4 on a scale of 1 to Red Panda. Sorry, Ivan! If you had maybe incorporated Stephen Gumz into your act, it could have earned you an extra point or two.
The 2nd half began with the crowd being urged to stand until ND scored its first basket of the half, and I secretly hoped that ND (and Louisville, so that it wouldn’t hurt ND’s chances of winning) would go on something of a 10-minute scoring drought. Alas, 49 seconds in, VJ Beachem finally decided he wanted to at least score once, and hit a long jumper after a Quentin Snider 3-pointer, making it 44-40. That would be VJ’s only basket.
ND extended its lead to 48-40, making the crowd loud enough to give Beachem the power to play some defense, getting a piece of a Cardinals jump shot and allowing for his teammate to recover the loose ball. However, a Bonzie turnover led to an easy layup for Louisville soon after. The crowd would get another chance to get loud, though, as a Farrell 3-pointer extended the lead to 9.
Torres then continued his super-human efforts by blocking a Snider shot, and the “Noise Meter” was shown again, but the fans yet again failed to reach “Cranked” levels. Torres follows that block up with another bucket, giving him his season-high of 6 points (he would finish with that total, tripling the offensive output of VJ Beachem, which should never happen). Torres got another blocked shot in as well, this time on 6’10” Mangok Mathiang.
After picking up a foul and being subbed out of the game, Torres watched from the bench with his typical vigor and enthusiasm as Louisville went on a 7-0 run that cut the Irish lead to 2 at 53-51 and forced an ND timeout with 11:57 left.
The Irish were on a 2-minute, 54-second scoring drought before White Steve reentered the game and took the reins, scoring on a strong take to the hoop to make it 55-51. A lazy pass from Farrell led to another transition layup for Louisville, and at the under-12 media timeout the score was 55-53 with 10:34 remaining.
After an over-the-back foul was called on Louisville, Bonzie motioned to the crowd to get loud yet again, and they began chanting “WE LOVE OVER THE BACK FOULS! WE LOVE OVER THE BACK FOULS!”
I made that up, but the crowd did get louder, implying that they really do like those kinds of fouls. I definitely liked it.
A Matty Farrell layup made it 59-53 in favor of the Fighting Irish, once again revving up the crowd before they were quickly deflated again, this time by Louisville’s shortest and most-similar-to-a-13-year-old team member, Ryan McMahon (6’0”), who drained a three pointer from the corner and made it 59-56 with 7:27 left.
After a couple free throws from the Irish, McMahon drew a questionable foul on Farrell while shooting another three pointer, and hit 2 of 3 free throws to make it a 61-60 lead for ND with 6:38 left in the contest.
Rex Pflueger, who has definitely played better games, decided this was his time to shine, though, as the sophomore defensive genius turned his talents to the other side of the court, draining a partially-contested three in the corner with absolutely no fear in his eyes, extending the lead to 4 with 6 minutes to play.
After Donovan Mitchell scored again (the dude is awesome, by the way - he had a stat line of 20-5-4-5 on the evening), White Steve hit a couple free throws to get the crowd loud one more time, and after a Pirate Mahmoud basket quieted them, they made more noise when Bonzie hit a couple more free throws to make it 68-64 with 4:32 to play.
At the 3:21 mark, Notre Dame officially named White Steve as the Player of the Game on the video board, which to me was extremely bold. Whoever decided that award is extremely prescient, though - I can tell you that much. Love the confidence that the ND hoops media team is showing with a power move like that.
During the same timeout that saw White Steve win Player of the Game, some middle-aged guy behind and to the left of our section was standing up and wearing a leprechaun hat, leading his own section in a “Here we go Irish, here we go!” chant that seemed doomed to embarrass him at first, but actually legitimately caught on and bled into other sections, and even had the cheerleaders joining in by the end of the timeout. My reaction:
Following that raucous display of fandom and after that
Dang Deng Adel made a free throw and Pirate Mahmoud dropped a momentum-changing alley-oop on the Irish following an ND shot clock violation, Quentin Snider drew a foul and hit one of two free throws to make it 68-68 with 2 minutes remaining.
Bonzie followed that up by drawing a foul of his own, but proceeded to only make one of two free throws, giving ND a nice, but razor-slim lead of 69 to 68. That point was enough to get the crowd back into it, though, and by my own estimates, I’d say the “Noise Meter” would have said “Roaring” when Louisville tried, and failed miserably, to duplicate the alley-oop to Pirate Mahmoud they got not too long beforehand.
Matty Farrell got a couple free throws to extend it to 71-68, and then VJ Beachem and White Steve combined to pull a classic “look what I found” steal as Beachem messily picked the pocket of the ball handler he was guarding and Vasturia scooped up the loose ball. This was absolutely VJ’s biggest contribution of the game and the only thing I could point to and say was a significant impact on the game for ND.
That steal set up ND to run some clock, and then as the shot clock ticked toward 0, White Steve drove to the basket and made a beautiful shot as he fell away from the hoop, making it 73-68 with 19.5 seconds left and earning a noise level from the crowd that I would absolutely call “Cranked,” if not “Full Domer.”
ND tried to do the “Noise Meter” to confirm my estimate, but had to get rid of it before it got a good reading because of a foul that necessitated a return to showing the action on the court.
The rest of the contest was simply the Irish continuing their stellar free throw shooting (22 of 25 for 88% in this contest), ultimately finishing the game with a 77-70 victory and leaving Rick Pitino still winless at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame out-rebounded the much-taller Cardinals 38-35, Bonzie picked up his 9th doub-doub of the season, and White Steve poured in a career high in points with 24, including the game-clincher that got Purcell as “Cranked” as it’s been this season.
- This was an awesome win, but someone needs to figure out what the hell is wrong with VJ Beachem. He looks like he has no confidence or desire to play anymore. The team looks very good despite that, which I never would have believed coming into the season, but they’re going to need his scoring, shooting, and length if they want to make any sort of serious run this year. Someone needs to wake him up, or he’ll end up a benchwarmer by March
- Bonzie and White Steve are two of my favorite players ever at ND. Period. They’re consistent and fearless and just beautiful basketball players
- Matty Farrell continues to come up big in big games. He had 22 points tonight and hit some big free throws down the stretch. He’s the real deal
- Torres’ contribution and Geben mixing it up down low (especially in the last couple minutes and with some drawn charges) were huge and should not be underappreciated
- TJ Gibbs and Rex Pflueger need more minutes - especially Gibbs considering he got just 12 in this one. If Beachem wants to mail it in, Brey needs to cut his minutes down and play guys who are going to hustle and defend and make things happen
- Notre Dame had just 6 assists, which is unheard-of for a Mike Brey team. Also, with 12 turnovers, that means the Irish had a 1:2 assist-to-turnover ratio. And they still scored 77 points on a Louisville defense. Holy cow
- ND sits atop the ACC with FSU as the only 2-0 teams in the conference. At the very bottom? 0-2 Louisville. The ACC is insanely good this season, and might just get 10 teams in the tourney
- Because the students are still on break, there was no band tonight. The music played over the loudspeakers included Usher, House of Pain, Roscoe Dash, The Sugarhill Gang, Otis Redding (this one got Digger to motion to someone he knows in the crowd - great success), Chance the Rapper, Nelly, Justin Timberlake, DMX (only the beat, though, so I give this a -1000 out of 10), the Cha Cha Slide, Montell Jordan, and a video of ND players asking the crowd to get loud that ended with Marty Geben saying “Let’s get loud!” sorta awkwardly, which to me earns an automatic 10 out of 10
- At one point in the game, Donovan Mitchell slammed into a camera guy at the end of a fast break. He was sitting beside the basket and got knocked off what looked like a computer desk chair. Mitchell helped the man AND his chair up off the ground, which to me was awesome. Nothing screams sportsmanship like showing respect to both your fellow man and inanimate objects on the court
- ND sets up hashtags for people to send pictures to on game day to get them shown on the video board. Three kids got a picture of them dabbing up there, and we all know what that means - somewhere Paul Ryan is weeping for the future
- During a timeout, the video screen showed some facts about former player and now member of Brey’s staff, Eric Atkins. Specifically, the theme of the video was “Anatomy of a Champion” and it proceeded to list just three things - Vision, Heart, and Back. No offense to whoever put that together, but vision, a heart, and a back don’t really make up the full anatomy of a champion. There are several other key body parts missing there, and I can assure you Eric Atkins probably has more to him than that. Next time do your medical research better, ND media team
- There were two VJs and a TJ in this game. I have no further insight there, but that’s an observation I made and I refuse to cut it from the final draft of this recap
- Two of the refs from this game are named Ron Groover and Jerry Heater, and those are pretty funny names. The third ref is named Ron Clark and that is decidedly not funny. You’re very welcome for two straight useless bullets on names
Alright folks, this is already way too long and you probably won’t even read this far. But if you do, please leave a comment with your favorite thing to say every time White Steve makes his defender look foolish.