Your #5 (this will change tomorrow) Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team got back at it yesterday afternoon, hosting the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers in a game that was chippier and more interesting than anyone expected coming into the matchup.
The Irish ultimately won 71-53, but not before a slow start, various flagrant and technical fouls, and a career game for Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben. Let’s dive into the details, as I give my firsthand account of the events of this weird basketball game.
Still somehow feeling the aftereffects of the Holly Jolly Trolley party I partook in on Friday evening in Chicago, I rolled into Purcell about half an hour until tipoff, ready to see the Irish get back on track after the shellacking they took at Michigan State on Thursday night.
I got amped up almost immediately, as just after I settled into my seat, the band began playing “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers, which ALWAYS brings the house down, as I noted in my recap of the MSU game.
My eyes scanned the student section, and I noted that the section had not filled out much at the time. However, with a Sunday afternoon tip against an unexciting opponent, I didn’t expect a huge crowd to be early. The students actually ended up doing a good job filling out their section by the time the action began, so props to them on showing up.
A couple students that were there early, though, were the heroes that go to every game with a dry-erase whiteboard and their gold-jacket-donning friend who I now know is named Brandon.
The Whiteboard Guys came out firing with their jokes for this one, and Brandon, whose birthday was apparently yesterday/this past weekend, looked fantastic as always:
Now this is a 30 for 30 I'd watch ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/Y1PXbHiCCx— ND Whiteboard (@ND_Whiteboard) December 3, 2017
We’ll definitely be seeing more from those guys in these recaps and in a special feature I’m working on.
As the Notre Dame team came off the floor when finished with their warm-ups, I noticed they were all wearing Under Armor t-shirts that said “Rain Coats. Power Claps,” and I spent the next 10 minutes sitting there trying to figure out what it meant. I was making all sorts of storm/rain-related guesses, and I guess my theories weren’t toooooo far off:
Rain Coats - let the criticism, either negative or positive, run off your back like rain.— Alan Wasielewski (@NDmbbSID) December 3, 2017
Power Claps - something negative happens, power clap, move on to the next play
Shirts were made for the team to wear off the court, but they decided to wear them in warm ups/on bench today pic.twitter.com/tLGfXlaaZI
With that mystery cleared up, I took the rest of the idle time before tip to notice the #BreysChase banners they have hanging in Purcell to show how many wins Mike Brey has at ND. He was at 388 heading into the game (so, he’s of course now at 389).
As the team came out of the locker room ready to play, I noticed Juwan Durham, the much-hyped transfer big man from UConn who’s sitting out this season because of the transfer, has his left arm in a sling. This is probably old news or has been reported on before, but this is my first time seeing it. Hopefully it’s nothing too long-term that could affect his ability to hit the ground running when he’s eligible to play next season.
Mike Brey came out looking dapper in his patented suit-and-no-tie look, but part of me is crestfallen that Brey hasn’t decided to be Maui Brey for the entire season.
My suggestion for the ND Men’s Basketball program and marketing team, in order to rectify this: have a Maui Brey promotional game in the dead of winter -- January or February — against a marquee opponent like North Carolina or Miami. Encourage fans to wear tropical clothing, have Hawaii-themed giveaways and entertainment, etc.
I think it’d be a ton of fun and the return of t-shirt-and-shorts Brey to the sideline would galvanize the team like no other coaching tactic could. Plus, after the events of yesterday’s game (details below), Brey could maybe use the reminder to relax that can only come from dressing so casually.
Final note: they had a bunch of little local Cub Scouts carry out the flags for the national anthem and it was absolutely adorable.
St. Francis Brooklyn starters, listed with position, height, and class:
G Chauncey Hawkins, 5’8”, Freshman
G Glenn Sanabria, 5’11”, Junior
F Joshua Nurse, 6’9”, Junior
G Jalen Jordan, 6’3”, Freshman
F Milija Cosic, 6’6”, Sophomore
Notre Dame starters, listed with a brief description of their handshake with Nikola Djogo that they do during introductions:
TJ Gibbs, run by each other and mime shooting a running jumper
Rex Pflueger, stutter step around each other and then shoot synchronized layups
Martinas Geben, quick handshake and a hopping body bump
Matt Farrell, a very business-like, no-nonsense handshake
Bonzie Colson, a neat little synchronized dance move
As the teams lined up to tip off, the Purcell video board showed its Noise Meter, measuring the arena’s level of rowdiness. The meter maxed out at “Roaring” for tipoff, indicating the crowd was excited but not nearly close to going bonkers or anything like that.
Geben won the opening tip, and after an empty first possession for ND, BONZIE swatted the shot of a St. Francis player, leading to an open dunk for Rex Pflueger on a fast break. This dunk, per usual, resulted in figurative snow squalls descending upon the students as they chucked their torn-up newspaper pieces into the air to signify that ND had made its first basket of the game.
Pflueger was very active in the opening minutes (as if he’s ever NOT active out there), scoring that first bucket, missing a couple free throws, and also, unsurprisingly, finding himself on the floor twice in the first minute of action. Rex is “Mr. Hustle” out there, without a doubt.
At this point, I noticed another great whiteboard roast, making observational jokes about the St. Francis team. Love it:
Despite the fantastic roasts coming from just to the left of their bench, the Terriers hung with the Irish early on, applying a little full court pressure (nothing super-intense, but still) and forcing ND to look just a tad sloppy on multiple possessions. Matt Farrell, specifically, did that thing he does where he gets going just a little too fast and ends up with a turnover or making a mistake. Slowing down just a tad to ensure he has control would make a world of difference.
After a BONZIE steal and lay-in and a beautiful TJ Gibbs drive into the lane and dish to Geben for a layup, the Irish held an 8-7 lead at the first media timeout.
During that timeout, we were #blessed enough to witness T-shirt Toss Time, and the ND adult fans came READY for this. I talk about this every game, but it still baffles me how many fully grown men and women go crazy when offered the chance at catching a balled-up free t-shirt at a college basketball game. It’s so incredibly strange and fascinating.
After the break, Gibbs made another good drive that ended with a Marty Geben dunk, making it 5 straight games where I have predicted he would get a dunk and then he got a dunk.
The dude just dunks, it’s as simple as that.
John Mooney and DJ Harvey were the first two guys off the bench, and Harvey immediately asserted himself, connecting on a smooth mid-range jumper off the dribble. He can look lost or tentative at times out there, but damnit if his midrange game isn’t already fantastic (and probably only second to BONZIE’s midrange game).
After BONZIE picked up his 2nd foul, he was sent to the bench. Elijah Burns saw some time early on because of this, and looked solid in doing so, finishing with a layup on a nice pick-and-roll with Pflueger.
Heading into the under-12 timeout, Mooney got called for a charge, and it definitely didn’t look like it was the right call. Mooney was making a move on a post-up and the guy guarding him appeared to have begun falling in anticipation of Mooney’s move, hoping to draw a charge. Straight out of the “Coach K Awful and Annoying Defense Playbook,” it worked like a charm and got called. 16-14 Notre Dame with 10:49 remaining in the half.
During this next timeout, Purcell put up its Dance Cam, and the crowd was treated to plenty of great dancing children and awkwardly-dancing parents. Brandon of the Golden Jacket got up there at one point, as did a kid wearing tropical clothing in a clear callback to Maui Brey. See, guys, my Maui Brey Night idea will be so easy to implement!
After the timeout, Harvey knocked down a three-pointer, showing a lot of confidence and poise after looking pretty rattled in East Lansing on Thursday. That’s a positive sign that he’s bounced back and learned from that game.
After a BONZIE jumper fell through to give the Irish a 21-16 lead, the Noise Meter was brought back, but the crowd only got to the edge between “Loud” and “Roaring” before a St. Francis three calmed the crowd.
Gibbs responded with a three of his own, though, getting the crowd back into it once again. During an ensuing timeout, the Purcell DJ played “Party Up” by DMX, which seemed to energize the crowd a little bit. Specifically, ND Leprechaun Joe Fennessy seemed to be jammin’ to it a bit before the game started back up again.
The next couple minutes were, for the most part, dominated by ND, as Matt Farrell had a gorgeous lay-in over 6’9” C Cori Johnson of the Terriers, floating the ball over his shot block attempt, off the upper section of the backboard, and into the hoop.
He followed that up with a beautiful entry pass over a fronting defender to BONZIE for an easy layup. After another Rex “Sticky Fingers” Pflueger steal and an Irish bucket, ND led 32-22 at the under-4-minute timeout.
This timeout brought us the first appearance of the day for the Notre Dame Pom Squad, and they came out onto the court wearing sweaters for some reason and not holding any pom poms at all. Thus, the Notre Dame Squad came out and started dancing to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” immediately garnering all of my respect and admiration. That song is perfect any time of year, but also especially right now.
As action resumed, we in the media seats under the hoop were treated to an absolutely delightful play, as Austin Torres made a diving, behind-the-back save of a loose ball that was going out of bounds, tossing it up the court to a teammate and leading to a Pflueger layup on the other end. At this point, the crowd is feeling it, and I noticed a student hoisting aloft a cardboard cutout of Maui Brey in a Hawaiian shirt. It’s great.
With 1:30 left in the half, the Irish now led 38-22, looking much more like a top-10 team playing a lesser opponent at home. Farrell had a fantastic up-and-under lay-in, Geben knocked down a baby hook after posting up a St. Francis player with confidence, and finally an ND free throw and a St. Francis three left us with a 43-25 halftime lead for the Irish.
If you were following along and wondering what kind of run that was for ND to end the half on, it was a 21-3 movement by Brey’s Boys. Not too shabby.
Notre Dame: Shot 55% from the field and 29% from deep. The team was led by the down-low duo of BONZIE COLSON and Martinas Geben, who each scored 10 points and snagged 5 rebounds in the half. Harvey, Farrell, and Pflueger all chipped in 6 points as well.
St. Francis Brooklyn: Shot 30% from the field and 31% from deep. Jalen Jordan (2-for-2 from 3-point range) and Milija Cosic led the way for the Terriers, each scoring 6 points and grabbing 3 boards.
Alright folks, it’s time to rate the halftime show on the ultimate halftime show scale of 1 to Red Panda.
Halftime for yesterday’s game began with a Purcell classic: awarding “Fan of the Game” to someone at mid-court and giving them a basketball signed by the team. This Fan of the Game was a guy named Ben Skibbe, and I completely missed why they gave him the award.
Usually it’s something they give to people who have been season ticket holders for years or made a donation or something, but this guy looked pretty young and I could not figure it out. Whatever the reason, though, congrats to Ben Skibbe on winning!!!
At this point, then, the main event for halftime was announced: Upward Basketball!
My immediate reaction to watching a bunch of little kids play a miniature-sized basketball game on the same court as big guys like BONZIE COLSON and Marty Geben: hell. yeah.
The Upward Basketball game being played pitted two girls’ teams, a yellow team and a green team, against one another. These girls were probably like 8 years old.
The game began with neither team shooting very well from the floor, and I counted a number of uncalled travels. The referee might have been one of the teams’ coaches, and if that’s the case, I guess I understand why he was so blatantly ignoring these clear violations.
Anyway, after watching the group of girls sprint up and down the court chasing the person dribbling the ball wildly, it became clear that the yellow team was easily favored to come out on top. They had two big-time players -- #15 and #21. We’ll call #15 Skylar (in honor of Sky Diggs) and call #21 Ruth (in honor of Ruth Riley).
Skylar could straight up play. She could handle the ball WITH BOTH HANDS, and made the game’s first basket on an awesome runner in the lane. Ruth, meanwhile, was probably half-a-foot taller than everyone else on the floor. She had a devastating block on a particularly tiny girl who was just trying to see if she could get her shot up to the basket at all, and then proceeded to collect the loose ball and dribble coast-to-coast, only to miss a gimme on the other end. Still, having a big that can handle the ball like that has to be exciting for Yellow Team fans across the country.
Skylar scored again on another play where she managed to switch dribbling hands and look miles ahead of everyone else in terms of what kind of coaching she’d received. Then, not too long after, Ruth finally got a bucket to fall, extending the Yellow Team lead to 6.
#5 on the Green Team began to get aggressive in hunting her shot about midway through the contest. We will call her Arike (in honor of current junior guard for the ND women’s squad, Arike Ogunbowale). She was trucking down the court on a fast break when she decided to pull up for a heat-check shot from somewhere between the 3-point line and free throw line. Possibly needless to say, but the ball didn’t quite make it to the hoop from that distance.
However, just moments later, Arike knocked down a shot to get Green Team on the board, making it 6-2. Nothing else eventful would happen, and Yellow Team won by the same score.
Overall, this was very entertaining, but I would have liked to have seen a more marquee matchup. Is Green Team really the best competition that Upward could manage for the Yellow Team in this huge marketing event for the league? The Yellow Team just had way more height and talent and I really wish we could have seen a game that didn’t end with one team tripling the score of the other. Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, I give it a 7 out of 10. Very fun and funny and entertaining, but not quite to the level of the best of the best on the Red Panda scale.
The second half began with some scoring, as 2 minutes in both teams had managed to score a couple baskets, making it 47-29.
On a breakaway, Pflueger went up for what should have been a wide open slam dunk, but looked like he either jumped too soon or couldn’t decide between a dunk and layup or something, because he got absolutely rejected by the front of the rim. He ran back down the court cracking up at his mistake, and was still laughing when ND came back down on offense. For how intense he plays, Pflueger always seems to be the guy smiling the most and having the most fun out there. I love that about him.
The game started to get chippy, as BONZIE was getting noticeably frustrated with some no-calls, and then got elbowed in the jaw by St. Francis’ Darelle Porter.
There was a little jabber-jawing between the two teams, and then both squads were sent to their benches as the refs spent time ultimately determining that the elbow was a Flagrant 1, giving ND two foul shots and the ball.
The Irish, while picking up some points on free throws, saw their lead dwindle a bit as they missed 11 shots in a row. COLSON picked up his 3rd foul, and St. Francis continued to take chunks out of the Irish lead, going on a 11-1 run to make it 48-36 with 13:42 to play.
TJ Gibbs drilled a three pointer that broke the missed-shots streak and the Terriers’ run, and Farrell followed that up with a steal and impressive finish on the other hoop to extend the lead back to 17 at the under-12 timeout.
During that timeout, the band hit that “Despacito” tune and the ND Whiteboard guys cooked up another good burn, saying “Rasheem dunks Oreos in water,” talking about Terriers G Rasheem Dunn. It has not been confirmed whether or not this is true. Dunn hasn’t released any official statement regarding the matter.
As the half progressed, the crowd got to see Pflueger collect a loose and dead ball that had rolled to the other side of the court by doing a neat soccer trick to kick the ball up to himself. This made the crowd gasp and immediately spurred an “Olé” chant from the students. Those guys are quick-witted, folks.
After a ridiculous Matt Farrell wrap-around layup that made it 58-38 ND, we entered the under-8 timeout and were treated to the news that Martinas Geben had picked up his first career double-double.
The Bird Whisperer had himself a day, and has honestly been doing so for the past few games. His confidence is certainly at an all-time high right now.
42 points for @Martin_Geben in past four games - and hopefully more today - by far best scoring stretch of his career.— Alan Wasielewski (@NDmbbSID) December 3, 2017
After a couple St. Francis buckets and one for the Irish, another timeout gave us a 60-43 score and another Notre Dame Pom Squad performance. This time, they brought their pom poms out there, earning their original name back. However, at recent games the Pom Squad had gotten into the habit of tossing their pom poms during their dancing, which always gets a roar from the student section in support. Today, they did not do so, and I really think that’s a missed opportunity.
Nevertheless, the crowd got to see a bit more than just the typical Pom Squad dance routine, as TJ Gibbs came out of the timeout doing a very subtle little dance to the song that was being played. He was feeling good and it was pretty funny.
When play resumed, BONZIE found himself with the ball amongst a bunch of Terriers defenders who were aggressively trying to take the ball from him, and COLSON swung his arms out of frustration, connecting with the head of a St. Francis player.
After a review, COLSON’s elbow was ruled a Flagrant 2, meaning he was ejected from the game.
As BONZIE left the floor to the chagrin of the crowd, one voice could be heard clearly by everyone -- a fan yelled out “All I want for Christmas is Matt Gregory!” This certainly provided a nice chuckle in what was otherwise a tense and frustrating moment for Irish fans as their best player was escorted off the floor for an elbow that honestly looked a lot like the one he himself took to the face earlier in the half.
Almost immediately afterward, Mike Brey became frustrated and upset with the refs and said one-too-many choice words to them, as he was T’ed up and subsequently tossed from the game.
Ever the quick ones, the student section immediately started chanting “FREE MIKE BREY!” and the majority of the non-student crowd joined in. It was an awesome moment and speaks to how well-regarded Brey is.
When assistants Ryan Humphrey and Eric Atkins came back from walking COLSON and Brey to the locker room, Humphrey was very clearly trying not to laugh or even smile, but was mostly failing. Clearly, it was funny to see someone as relaxed as Brey get thrown out for blowing up on a referee.
Got to witness history today - first time @NDMikeBrey has been ejected from a game in his college coaching career - 728 games— Alan Wasielewski (@NDmbbSID) December 3, 2017
With the crowd dying to see the Irish stomp on the team that just helped get COLSON and Brey kicked out, Farrell connected with Geben on an easy alley-oop dunk that had all of Purcell rockin’. They didn’t display the Noise Meter, but I’m guessing they surpassed “Roaring” on that one.
The Irish defense cranked it up a notch in honor of BONZ and Brey, getting aggressive and making plays all over the place. Geben swatted a shot with authority, Pflueger’s block-attempt on a St. Francis jumper forced a travel, and with about 4 minutes to play, the students began chanting “We Are ND!” as the Irish held a 64-49 lead.
More chippiness followed, with Matt Farrell and Darelle Porter doing something I didn’t see to be called for double technical fouls. This led to a pretty great ND Whiteboard update:
I mean... who hasn't yet..? pic.twitter.com/lAZSsVRDTp— ND Whiteboard (@ND_Whiteboard) December 3, 2017
After a St. Francis airball brought a loud and enthusiastic “Aiiiiiiiirbaaaallll” chant from the students, ND put the game away, running out the clock and getting time for guys like Djogo, Burns, Mooney, and Torres at the end.
Oh and also, senior F Matt Gregory, who is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship this season, got into the game, and the crowd was LOUD when he ran onto the court. I foresee a Tom Kopko-esque moment if he gets out there on Senior Night and knocks down a shot.
Geben was shown on the video board as having won Player of the Game, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds, leading all players on both sides in both of those categories.
St. Francis freshman G Josh Nicholas got more PT in the final minutes, and made the most of it by throwing down a siiiiiick one-handed dunk over DJ Harvey.
That was a VERY athletic dunk.
The Irish reserves ran out the rest of the clock, and ND finished with a 71-53 victory without Brey and BONZIE for the final ~6 minutes of basketball.
Notre Dame: Shot 41% from the field and an abysmal 21% from 3-point range. Geben led the way with his 14 and 10, while BONZIE left early just one rebound short of another double-double, scoring 13 points, collecting 9 boards, and adding 3 blocks. Farrell had 12, Gibbs and Harvey added 10 each, and Pflueger scored an additional 8 points (along with 7 rebounds and 4 steals) to round out a balanced scoring effort by the Irish.
St. Francis Brooklyn: Shot 32% from the field and 26% from deep. Jalen Jordan, Rasheem Dunn, and Darelle Porter all scored 10 points, and Milija Cosic added 8 points and 8 rebounds. No one else scored more than 4.
- Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben continues to impress. A few years ago, I would have called you crazy if you’d said that Geben would ever have a game where he put up a double-double and led all players in both scoring and rebounds.
But this guy has come such a long way in his 4 years, and is just another testament to how Mike Brey and his staff are able to develop guys over their careers. I am VERY excited to see how Geben continues to develop and improve and gain confidence throughout this season — he could be the X-factor this year that determines how far this team can go in March.
Also, he had the post-game quote of the day, without question:
“It’s nice to have a passionate coach who’s not gonna back down. I’m glad he’s standing up for us, but...he needs to stay a little more composed.”
He had all of the media interviewing him dying with that one
- This is what it’s all about:
- TJ Gibbs is now 3-for-9 on free throws in his past two games, and he’s shooting just 67% from the foul line this season after shooting 83% last year. I imagine his percentage will improve as this season progresses, but it’s something to watch, as he’s struggled to hit anything from the charity stripe of late, and the Irish will certainly need him to be efficient there when they get into ACC play. He’s gotta be better than 67%.
- Matt Farrell’s 3-point streak came to an end in this one, as he shot 0-for-8 from 3-point range yesterday (yikes). Prior to this game, he had made a three pointer in 31 straight games. Hopefully Farrell can refocus and get back on track on Tuesday against Ball State, as he’s not been 100% the past couple games and it has shown in his performances
- I am very serious about Maui Brey Night. Someone please make this happen. Please.
- This tweet about Rex made me LOL:
- I’m going to be interviewing the ND Whiteboard guys and Brandon of the Golden Jacket for a feature on them, so if you have any questions you want me to ask them, please leave them in the comments below!