Well folks, another Crossroads Classic has come and gone, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team has once again blown a substantial lead and lost to an opponent they should have blown out.
After having done the very same thing the past two years against the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers, the #18 Fighting Irish once again showed a lack of killer instinct and an inability to make winning plays in crunch time, losing 80-77 in an overtime thriller on Saturday afternoon to IU.
Unluckily for me, I was there taking in the sights and sounds and a very uneventful halftime show, so let’s dive in and see if we can explain away this terrible feeling ND fans feel today.
This was my first game as credentialed media at any arena besides Purcell, and so I had a fun time going through security as I entered Bankers Life Fieldhouse. My belt set off the metal detector and they made me take it off and go through the detector again -- which would be fine if I were a normal person who is good at quickly putting a belt through belt loops.
Instead, I am very bad and slow and clumsy at it, and got to stand there after making it through security, struggling to complete a very basic task as scores of other media personnel and Bankers Life employees sidled by me. It was a devastating blow to my confidence, and I’m surprised I was able to recover and make it to my seat without further embarrassment.
Once I finally got my belt squared away, I made it up to my seat in the Southeast Balcony press box, where I plopped down and got to watch Purdue and the Butler Bulldogs play their final 10 minutes.
Purdue had been crushing Butler, but the Bulldogs made a nice little run in the final 5 minutes, cutting the deficit to as little as 9 before finally being overcome by the Boilers’ size and talent and losing the game by 15.
More importantly, there’s a guy on Butler named Paul Jorgensen who hit a big three during Butler’s run, and it made me think of a family on my street growing up named the Jorgensens, and specifically their son Jeffy, who was my brother’s age.
Jeffy was a super nice but super odd kid, and my only memory of him is the camouflage jacket he would wear and how often I’d look outside when he was over playing with my brother and see him army-crawling around in our yard — this was a very frequent thing. I wonder what Jeffy is up to now. Hopefully still incorporating army-crawling into whatever he’s doing.
As the previous game ended and we waited for the IU and ND game to begin, all of us up in the Southeast press box noticed these computer monitors scattered throughout our seats that were just flashing blank scores for NBA games. They were really just in the way, and seemed downright useless. Nice.
As I contemplated the uselessness of these monitors, the IU writer next to me pulled out a pair of binoculars he brought and began to look down into the arena below. We were a little far away considering we were in the balcony, but you definitely didn’t need binoculars to see the action and to tell what’s going on. I couldn’t decide if this guy was a genius for making it so he can see ANYTHING at the game in detail or if he was a moron for bringing binoculars to a basketball game. I’ll leave that to you readers to decide.
Finally, as the song “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons played over the speakers and I realized, to my dismay, that I actually like that song, someone in the row in front of us realized that if you change the channel on the side of the monitors, you can watch TV.
Clearly, I was the moron there who didn’t realize that, not anyone else who brought binoculars. So, I threw on the close, interesting game between the Virginia Tech Hokies and Kentucky Wildcats and settled in for a solid two hours of college basketball observation.
#13 Juwan Morgan, F
#10 De’Ron Davis, F
#2 Josh Newkirk, G
#1 Aljami Durham, G
#4 Robert Johnson, G
These Hoosiers intros were funny because the P.A. announcer definitely didn’t say Josh Newkirk’s name and instead announced Robert Johnson’s name twice.
Which, when you think about it, is NOT OKAY. Either IU is cloning their best guard — which seems ethically questionable at best — or they are committing fraud and claiming Newkirk is also Robert Johnson. Someone needs to investigate these guys for this.
Notre Dame: Pflueger, Gibbs, Geben, Farrell, COLSON — the usual, you guys. You know the drill.
This game between two offensively-minded teams began just the way everyone expected, with neither team scoring for the first 2 minutes of basketball. IU guard Josh Newkirk picked up 2 fouls before the first basket (which was made by Aljami Durham at about the 18-minute mark).
Rex Pflueger responded with an acrobatic layup in traffic to tie it 2-2, setting the stage for what would indeed be a very back-and-forth, call-and-response game with these two teams.
On a fast break that BONZIE COLSON had a couple plays later, IU’s De’Ron Davis gave a fantastic effort to try to block COLSON’s layup, but as a sophomore with lots of length who doesn’t always have control of his body (not unlike a 6’10” baby giraffe), Davis somehow managed to fail to block the shot and then fly into the stands behind the hoop, crashing into people and chairs and whatnot as COLSON calmly jogged back down the court. This was a funny play. Here is a video of Davis’ block attempt:
Austin Torres was the first person off the bench for ND, which, looking back, is a huge, foreboding sign that the Irish were doomed from the start. I cannot fathom what Mike Brey thinks Torres brings that someone like John Mooney or Elijah Burns cannot bring, but I can tell you with certainty that Torres didn’t bring it today. He was not helpful out there. We can talk about that in painstaking detail later, though.
At the under-16 timeout, the Notre Dame band played The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and I began to believe again, as ND led 7-6.
As play resumed, it became clear that IU would try to double-team BONZIE every chance they got, and it was somewhat effective over the course of the game, for sure. BONZIE had a couple possessions where he turned it over because of this, and he definitely just seemed to struggle more when it happened (which seems natural, that maybe one guy might have more trouble scoring when he has two guys stopping him).
DJ Harvey knocked down a nice mid-range jumper to make it 9-8 ND with 13:30 left in the first half. Unfortunately for Harvey and for Notre Dame, that would be one of Harvey’s only real contributions in this one. He was more or less nonexistent down the stretch and did not play in crunch time.
At the under-12 timeout, I noted that Indiana was already leading the Irish in rebounds, 10-4. Again, not a good sign for how this game might go. This feeling of dread was alleviated somewhat when they were showing fans on the video board during the break, and an IU fan was smelling his armpit to see if he smelled okay, before finally realizing he was being broadcast for the thousands of people in attendance to see. Great stuff, no doubt.
ND jumped out to a 15-11 lead, which was quickly cut to 15-14 after a Robert Johnson 3-pointer with about 8:30 left in the half. He managed to respond with big shots throughout a lot of this game -- you will notice a pattern here.
The Irish then proceeded to go on a nice 13-0 run, spurred by a John Mooney blocked shot that led to a BONZIE bucket, a Nikola Djogo (!!!) three-pointer, a Mooney deep ball, and then a TJ Gibbs triple, for good measure, opening up a 28-14 lead for the Irish in just a matter of minutes (in just over 4 minutes, ND went on a 17-3 run). It was a Goddamn 3-point party out there for Notre Dame.
IU’s Collin Hartman finally hit a 3 to end the run and make it 28-17. Later, DJ Harvey was in transition and took it aggressively to the hoop, drawing a foul on Robert Johnson, who shuffled over after Harvey had already taken off, getting called for a blocking foul.
The huge IU contingent at the game was furious with the refs for this one, and to them I say this: charges should be banned anyway, because we shouldn’t reward guys for falling over instead of playing defense. Also, maybe if you want to take a charge there, be set BEFORE the opponent takes off. Calm down, you guys.
After a Juwan Morgan three-point-play and another Hartman three, the Hoosiers cut the ND lead to just 31-25 at halftime. This mini-run to make the score manageable was capped by Robert Johnson absolutely drilling a half-court shot — he just released it a second or two after the buzzer, rendering it useless.
A half-court shot that nearly meant a lot in terms of narrowing a deficit as time expired? That miiiiiight foreshadow something that happens later, you guys. Maybe. We’ll see.
Notre Dame: BONZIE had 12 points and 5 rebounds, TJ Gibbs had 5 points, and the rest of the Irish all had 2 or 3 points each. As a team, ND shot 39% from the field and 33% from 3 (4-of-12) in the half, and made 5 of 9 free throws (FORESHADOWING!!!). Matt Farrell played all 20 minutes in the first half.
Indiana: Juwan Morgan had 8 points and 5 rebounds, Robert Johnson had 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists, and Collin Hartman added those two big three point shots that kept the Hoosiers hanging around. As a team, the Hoosiers shot 37% from the field and 25% (3-of-12) from deep. They made 2 of their 3 free throws, and out-rebounded Notre Dame 21-15 (FORESHADOWING WHAT WILL DECIDE THIS ONE, FOLKS), but had 7 turnovers to ND’s 2.
I’ll be completely honest here, I was expecting more from Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Crossroads Classic in terms of halftime entertainment.
The main event was bringing out an IU fan and a Notre Dame fan to each try to make as many free throws as they could in 30 seconds. Let me first break down the two contestants:
- IU fan named Ryan: a young (in his 20s), in-shape looking kid who, upon watching him begin the competition, is clearly fairly athletic, as his shot is smooth and consistent and he knocks down 5 in 30 seconds. Nothing unreal, but he held his own
- ND fan named Austin: probably in his 30s, in much worse shape, dressed in cargo shorts...you can tell he has absolutely no chance from the very beginning, as his shot has bad form, it’s inconsistent, and he misses badly numerous times. He finishes with one made shot, sinking one with about 2 seconds left.
Notre Dame had no chance in this one, and so I once again ask, just as I did after the 8-year-old pee wee basketball game at halftime of ND-Ball State, that the organizers find a way to make the competition better instead of having one side with clearly better talent.
I give this halftime show a 2 on a scale of 1 to Red Panda.
Luckily for Bankers Life, they began playing Flo Rida’s “Cake” over the speakers, and I am ALWAYS here for Flo Rida and for that song specifically. I enjoyed that song while watching a guy on a VERY tall ladder fix something with one of the shot clocks, and then I was downright delighted when the Notre Dame band began playing Mariah Carey’s classic “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
The ND band followed that up by playing Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue” and I absolutely lost it (at least, on the inside...I remained a calm and professional journalist on the outside). The Irish may have lost this basketball game, but their band completely blew Indiana’s out of the water in terms of song selection and performance yesterday.
As halftime came to a close, I noticed in the Kentucky game on my little TV that they had a player wearing some amazing goggles/specs/sunglasses as he played. Check this out:
Quade Green is trying to put Virginia Tech in the Sharpshooter. pic.twitter.com/cbpOSufuB0— Scott Phillips (@phillipshoops) December 16, 2017
This is what this struggling Notre Dame team needs — sweet shade goggles for someone. I think they’d be worn best by Gibbs or by Nikola Djogo, but that’s just my opinion.
The 2nd half saw the Hoosiers continue their run that ended the first half, as Robert Johnson drained a 3 and Juwan Morgan chipped in a couple free throws to make it 31-30 almost instantaneously.
However, after a BONZIE bucket and a MARTINAS GEBEN DUNK and another Gibbs deep ball and a Farrell 3, the Irish re-extended their lead to 41-31.
BONZIE then hit an and-one turnaround jumper in transition and made the free throw, making it 44-31 Irish as ND once again went on an impressive scoring run and seemed to have the game under control.
IU would score 9 straight points from there, as Johnson continued to pour in points and Juwan Morgan bullied anyone and everyone who tried to guard him in the post. He just seemed to want it more down there and no one was able to slow him down.
John Mooney proceeded to drain a 3 to end the Hoosiers’ run, and a Farrell bucket in transition made it 49-40, once again lulling Irish fans into a fall sense of security.
Another Johnson 3-pointer and a Devonte Green jumper were the key highlights in a quick 7-0 run from IU, making it 49-47 just after the under-12 timeout. A BONZIE jumper pushed the ND lead out to 4 again, but Morgan answered right back with a made basket of his own.
With the score 51-49, Notre Dame AGAIN went on a run, with Farrell getting three points the old fashioned way, Gibbs knocking down a pair of free throws, and then Gibbs draining another 3 to make it 59-50.
Unfortunately, IU simply refused to go quietly, and Robert Johnson hit another 3 to keep IU hanging around. A little later, after BONZIE somehow missed a layup after a gorgeous Farrell pass set him up for the shot, Juwan Morgan once again imposed his will down low, making it 61-55.
A couple COLSON free throws made it 63-55 Notre Dame with just 2:45 remaining, and of course at this point, Irish fans have to have had confidence that the Irish had this thing wrapped up.
After a Morgan bucket and a Gibbs bucket in traffic and amidst a lot of contact, ND still led by 8 with 1:49 to play, up 65-57.
This is where the Irish started to break down, making mistake after mistake to let IU back into the game. They surrendered an offensive rebound to Zach McRoberts on a missed free throw by IU (after they made the first), leading to an and-one for Morgan that made it 65-61 with 1:35 remaining in the game. Yep, they got 4 points out of one possession. It wouldn’t be the only time.
After a bad ND possession that resulted in no points, IU came down and got the ball to Morgan down low again. He drew a foul and hit his free throws, making it now a 2-point game with 47.3 seconds left. Remember when it was an 8-point Irish lead, just a minute prior???
At this point, the crowd in Bankers Life Fieldhouse is pretty raucous — it is mostly IU fans in the arena, and for the first time on Saturday, they really, truly had something to go crazy about. A missed Rex Pflueger jumper (ND has to get a better look than this...c’mon now) gave IU the ball back with 21.5 seconds. The Hoosiers call a timeout.
During the timeout, Mike Brey does the UNTHINKABLE and puts in Austin Torres to play some defense, thinking he is a big, veteran guy who can move his feet well.
This was a bad decision.
Juwan Morgan completely owned Torres for the game-tying bucket with very little resistance. What was worse, though, was with a timeout in his pocket and the complete offensive liability of Torres still out there, Brey let his team play out the final seconds with a chance to win the game.
Of course, Farrell found a somewhat-open Torres under the hoop for a chance at the game-winner, but Torres got fouled with 0.8 seconds remaining. Torres is a 42.5% career free throw shooter. I turned to the IU writer next to me, at this point, and said this is going to OT. He looked nervous. I assured him he needn’t be.
Torres, God love him, missed both free throws as expected, and the Irish and Hoosiers headed to overtime tied at 65 in a game that ND led by 8 less than 2 minutes before. I had been chatting with a couple friends in a GroupMe message during the game, and I said this:
“I think 4-5 times we’ve taken a 9+ point lead and then let them right back in. And then inexplicably Austin Torres is in in crunch time and gets the ball and of course misses both free throws. IU has the crowd and momentum. I think they’re gonna do this.”
Overtime went about the way you would reasonably expect it to. IU jumped out to a quick lead on a Juwan Morgan bucket over Geben, who also could not stop him.
Farrell tied it with a jumper, and then Geben took a “charge” that definitely should have been a block. ND turned it over, but then got a stop and then got a beautiful BONZIE bucket to make it 69-67 with 2:30 left.
After COLSON got another 2 free throws after coming down with a tough rebound and getting fouled while doing so, Morgan responded with some charity shots of his own, making it 71-69.
At this point, the ND offense is just giving BONZIE isolations against whoever is guarding him, effectively taking away double teams. BONZIE is GOING TO WORK, and gets another bucket to push the ND lead to 4. IU then turned it over after stepping out of bounds, and at this point, it seems like, again, ND has control and can put this one away.
ND fails to score, and Devonte Green hits a three on the other end to make it 71-70 Notre Dame with a minute to go.
After a CLEAR blocking foul that sent Farrell to the line (IU fans didn’t think it was a foul, because IU fans never think their 6-5 basketball team is capable of making mistakes, I guess*), ND led 75-72 with just under a minute left.
*Pat Rick note: I know most fan bases probably do this to an extent, so maybe IU just annoys me because I know so many IU fans, but it’s unbelievable how much Hoosiers fans yesterday acted like they were getting jobbed by the game’s referees. Yeah you guys, in the de facto home game for you that’s taking place in Indianapolis, the blue blood, fan-favorite program is getting screwed in favor of the football school from up north. That makes sense and is definitely true.
Anyway, on the other end, De’Ron Davis went to work on Geben, who was playing some VERY soft defense with 4 fouls. Davis cut the Irish lead to 1 with 30 seconds left.
Gibbs hit a couple free throws to make it 77-74 with 20.8 seconds to go, and at this point, Irish fans have to at least think they won’t LOSE this one during this first overtime period. Worst case scenario, IU ties it with a 3 and we go to double overtime. Right?
After an IU timeout, Juwan Morgan hit a shot while drawing a foul. Okay, fine, the worst-case scenario of forcing double overtime is happening, right?
Morgan misses his free throw, though, which you would again expect to be a positive for Notre Dame. However, just like earlier, Zach Freakin’ McRoberts managed to get to the offensive rebound unabated, and made a very nice dish to a cutting Morgan for the go-ahead dunk with 8 seconds left.
This prompted Matt Farrell to come down and hoist up a three pointer with 5 seconds left for some reason, missing badly and leading to an IU rebound and two IU free throws.
With just a couple seconds left, Pflueger inbounded the ball to COLSON just behind mid-court, and he actually got a shot off that RIMMED OUT — like I said earlier, a half-court shot that ALMOST made a huge difference.
Notre Dame loses in heartbreaking and embarrassing fashion, 80-77, making IU 6-5 on the year and dropping ND’s record to 8-3 (and almost ensuring the team will fall out of the Top 25 this coming week).
Notre Dame: BONZIE finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds, TJ Gibbs had 17 points, and Matt Farrell added 15 points and 8 assists while playing the entire 45 minutes of the game. No one else on the team scored more than 6. The Irish shot 41% from the field as a team and 33% from deep (8-of-24). They made 19 of 26 free throws and were out-rebounded 41-32.
Indiana: Juwan Morgan finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds on an unbelievably efficient 13-of-17 shooting from the field. Robert Johnson had 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists while hitting 5-of-10 from deep, and Devonte Green chipped in 12 big points off the bench. Zach McRoberts had just 1 point, but had 9 rebounds, including SEVEN offensive rebounds. The Hoosier shot 49% from the field and 38% from deep (8-of-21), and made 18 of 25 free throws. IU turned it over 16 times to ND’s 9, but the rebounding was truly the difference in this one.
- This game was BAD. I don’t know what else to say, really. ND showed time and again they had the ability to blow IU out, and instead they kept opening the door and letting them back in. The Irish had runs of 17-3, 13-1, 8-1, and 8-2 to jump out to commanding leads, and yet failed every single time to retain those leads. The Irish also led by 8 with 2 minutes left in regulation and by 3 with 20 seconds left in overtime. Unbelievably bad job of closing the game by this team
- Mike Brey did not have a good game, coaching-wise. There were the big head-scratchers (putting in Torres in crunch time for defense, not calling timeout and taking taking him out for offense, etc.) and smaller ones, like not playing Mooney more when he was clearly the most effective big and the only one who MIGHT have had a chance of slowing down Morgan. Brey’s earned a lot of leeway over the past few years, but he had a bad game — losing a game like this to a VERY mediocre opponent is absolutely on the coach
- With that said, Juwan Morgan is a PLAYER and I will take him on my squad any day. Also, Zach McRoberts is annoying as hell when he’s an opponent, but if I’m an IU fan, I love him to death. SEVEN OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS including the one that won them the game! Dude just hustles, plain and simple
- BONZIE needs help. He can’t be asked to play 43 of 45 minutes and also do all of the scoring down the stretch. Gibbs chipped in some and Farrell occasionally scored, but those two guys have gotta be more reliable and make more plays at the end of games
- Pflueger is needed for defense and hustle, but Brey needs to do something to help him with his confidence on offense. He passes up open shots and takes bad mid-range jumpers and doesn’t seem to understand he can pass the ball off after he drives into the lane. His improvement and confidence will be crucial if this team is going to do anything of note in ACC play
- Austin Torres should not see the floor anymore. I love the guy — he hustles, he’s a good leader and locker room guy — but he is just a liability out there, and his defense is nowhere near good enough to justify his PT. I don’t know why Elijah Burns is suddenly relegated to never playing when the Irish struggle so much to just get defensive rebounds, but I think he and Mooney should get any and all minutes Torres is getting
- Also, Nik Djogo has looked good enough in the flashes we’ve seen that he should be playing more — specifically taking some of DJ Harvey’s minutes. Harvey still needs to play to get him experience and improve his game, but Djogo is long, athletic, and plays pretty well on both ends. He was a spark on Saturday and has earned more time
- Not sure what happened to my man the Bird Whisperer, but I sincerely hope he rediscovers his confidence and gets back to double-double level production down low. This team NEEDS him to play well