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Notre Dame Basketball, Ball State Detailed Recap: Is Tayler Persons the Best Player in the Country?

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Your #9 Fighting Irish just lost at home to Ball State. Here’s a firsthand account of how it happened, plus more!

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn’t the way the Notre Dame Fighting Irish wanted things to go. The opposite, though, can probably be said for Ball State guard Tayler Persons.

Last night, the #9 Irish hosted the Ball State Cardinals, a promising MAC team who they were expected to handle fairly easily. Instead, ND played a sloppy, lackluster first 30 minutes of the game, and despite Matt Farrell’s late heroics, the Cardinals won the game on a deep, pull-up three from Persons with just over a second remaining.

Despite how ugly this might get, let’s dive into the firsthand details and see what all led to this tough, ugly loss at home for Notre Dame.

Pregame

I got to Purcell with 8 minutes until tip due to this dumb thing I had to come from called “work.” So, I didn’t get to take in as much pre-game energy and activities as I often like, but I noticed a few things in those 8 minutes:

  • Digger was back at it tonight, talking to and yelling at anyone who he knew (which is almost everyone). He turned and said hi to a young woman who works for the program a couple seats over from me, calling her “Taylor Swift.” Taylor looks different in person, folks
  • Digger also made Torres run across the court and give him a fist pound. I definitely appreciated that
  • The student section wasn’t full last night, but the Whiteboard guys and Brandon with his Gold Jacket were showin’ out, per usual
  • Ball State was doing a buncha dunkin’ in their final pregame shoot-around/layup lines -- my theory is that seeing the ball go in the hoop so much gave them the confidence to knock down so many shots
  • During some quiet time before the tip, here’s a conversation two Cardinals fans in different sections had with the entire arena:

“Go Cardinals!”

“What he said!”

  • The Leprechaun Legion are wearing special shirts tonight: they feature Mike Brey in some sort of Game of Thrones getup and say “Winter is Coming,” which I appreciate
  • I spy Leprechaun Joe Fennessy waving that shillelagh around. Respect.

1st Half

Ball State Starters:

#25 Tahjai Teague, F, Sophomore (Indianapolis, IN)

#14 Kyle Mallers, F, Sophomore (Fort Wayne, IN)

#2 Tayler Persons, G, Junior (Kokomo, IN)

#34 Sean Sellers, G, Senior (Greensburg, IN)

#1 Jontrell Walker, G, Junior (the only starter not from Indiana)

Notre Dame Starters:

#10 TJ “Wait, I’m Supposed to Try to Make ALL My Free Throws?” Gibbs, G, Sophomore

#5 Matt “Thought the Game Started at 8:30 PM” Farrell, G, Senior

#0 Rex “No Regard for His or Anyone Else’s Safety” Pflueger, G, Junior

#35 BONZIE “How Did I Just Get That Shot to Fall?“ COLSON, F, Senior

#23 Martinas “The Bird WhispererGeben, F, Senior

Action

This game began somewhat sloppily, with a Pflueger miss, a Ball State travel, and a handful of students tossing their newspaper confetti into the air after a made BONZIE free throw (they’re supposed to wait for the first made field goal for ND — those students were lightly booed, as is protocol).

Finally, Matty Farrell made a nice drive to the hoop for a bucket, inducing the rest of the newspaper confetti storm to ascend and then gently rain down upon the half-filled student section.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In a dead ball break in the action, I notice the hair on Ball State’s reserve center, Trey Moses. It is absolutely insane, but I also wish I could pull off having hair like that. Props to him.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As the game progressed, we saw Ball State match Notre Dame shot for shot. Farrell made a great pass to Geben for a monstrous slam, Pflueger made a three, etc. But just after the under-16 timeout, Ball State drained a three to tie it at 8.

Farrell followed that up with his 10th straight missed 3 at Purcell (he was 0-for-8 against Saint Francis Brooklyn on Sunday, and at this point had missed his first two on Tuesday), but BONZIE soon reacquired the lead for the Irish with a pair of free throws.

After the Cardinals tied it up, a sloppy turnover from Notre Dame led to another Ball State bucket on a 3-on-1 break, giving them a 12-10 lead.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After a Matt Farrell shot got wedged between the rim and backboard, we went to another media timeout with Ball State leading 12-10 and 11:38 to play in the half.

During that timeout, the Notre Dame pom squad performed their Christmas routine, which was exactly the same as the one I saw them perform on Sunday.

Me:

After another Cardinals bucket extended their lead to 4, John Mooney found Geben on a gorgeous and-one underneath the hoop, which at the time made me ask myself, “Is Marty Geben the best scorer on this team???”

The answer is no, but it was damn sure fun to ask.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Geben completed the old-fashioned three to cut the deficit to one, but Ball State’s Francis Kiapway then drained a three to reset his team’s lead to 4, 17-13.

DJ Harvey looked out of sorts all game, and in a sequence at this point, he managed to get blocked going up for a shot, and then came back on the other end and picked up a foul on a guy shooting a three. After 2-of-3 were made by BSU, the Irish were now losing 19-13 at home to Ball State. It may have still been early and so no one was too worried at the time, but this was when Irish fans should have realized that this BSU team didn’t intend on just trying to keep it close. They thought, and played like, they could beat a top-10-ranked ACC team on the road.

After a number of missed shots by the Irish, Gibbs finally made a nice drive to the hoop, but got absolutely clobbered by Ball State. The crowd made a collective and immense gasp, then fell quiet, but Gibbs got back up and hit both free throws, making it 19-15 with about 8 minutes to play in the first half.

Sean Sellers, in a play symbolic of how rebounding went all evening, out-worked the Irish to come up with an offensive board on the other end, making a bucket to make it 21-15 at the under-8 timeout.

At this point, I check the ND stats to see what’s up, and the Irish are shooting 25% from the field (4-of-16) and 17% from 3-point range, with 4 turnovers and just 3 assists. Needless to say, this had not been a good half for Notre Dame.

The Purcell video board persisted in trying to galvanize the crowd, though, putting up the Dance Cam during the break and making the crowd go wild as they showed child fans all over the arena absolutely crushing it to “Hey Ya” by Outkast. The last kid got a huge cheer for how hard he was going with his dancing, and then dabbed as he finished. Amazing.

Play resumed, and BONZIE picked up a travel. I’m not positive if it was actually a travel, as it seemed like one of those calls where refs call it because it just kind of looks like a travel, but nonetheless, it was a turnover and Ball State capitalized with another bucket. 23-15 Ball State, and I am beginning to forget what it looks like for Notre Dame to make a shot.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As I typed that, BONZIE dropped in a nice mid-range jumper, so now I feel stupid. Ball State answered it with another basket of their own, though, as Notre Dame’s defense just can’t seem to get a stop.

Farrell and COLSON connected for a bucket to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 6, but then failed multiple times to get it closer, as Gibbs was flat on a three on one possession, and then after a fantastic Marty Geben block that started a fast break, ND threw the ball away in transition to give it right back to BSU.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Irish finally got a bucket in transition from Gibbs, making it 25-21 as the Noise Meter read “Loud” for the Purcell fans.

A fantastic Geben and-one on a post-up move and the ensuing free throw made it 25-24. After a couple BSU free throws, BONZIE took a bad tumble going after a loose ball, diving over the Cardinals bench and falling hard on the court behind it. He popped back up, though, and was able to throw down a dunk after a Rex “Sticky Fingers” Pflueger steal to make it a 1-point game with 1:30 to play.

After a Trey Moses and-one and a John Mooney three, Gibbs drew a foul on a fast break, but missed both his free throws, continuing his streak of poor shooting from the charity stripe.

Ball State got another pair of free throws, and then hit a buzzer beater to end the half with a 34-29 lead. Little did anyone there know that that 1st half buzzer beater would foreshadow shots to come.

1st Half Stats

Notre Dame: BONZIE COLSON led all scorers with 9 points and also had 4 boards, Martinas Geben was having himself another solid game with 8 points and 5 rebounds, and Matt Farrell had 4 assists but was not scoring in the first half. As a team, ND shot a very poor 37% from field and 20% from 3-point range. The Irish also had 7 turnovers to go along with 8 total assists.

Ball State: Tayler Persons had 10 points and 3 rebounds, Sean Sellers chipped in 7 and 3, and both Jeremie Tyler and Trey Moses added 5 points apiece. As a team, BSU shot 39% from the field and 27% deep. Furthermore, the Cardinals outrebounded the Irish 22-15 in the half, which seems a bit unacceptable if you’re an ND fan.

Halftime

At halftime, they once again honored someone as “Fan of the Game,” giving it to a student named Jack Concannon, who I learned is from Maryland, is a sophomore, is studying Economics, and loved the game last year where everyone wore mock turtlenecks in honor of Brey.

As he accepted his commemorative autographed team basketball, it became clear that they’re just picking anyone who seems like a decent fan to be Fan of the Game. I appreciate that, even if it does water down the accomplishments of past honorees.

As for the main halftime event, it was the Notre Dame drumline performing for the Purcell crowd. It was a solid performance, including light-up drumsticks, people playing xylophones, everyone having drums strapped to them (are they heavy???), and a portion of the performance done with the lights off.

My main takeaways:

  • I want to see a foot race or a basketball game or something with these people competing while their drums are strapped to them. How fast can they move with those big hulking things attached?
  • People who play cymbals — how hard is this to learn? I would think with a few weeks of practice, most people could handle that role, but maybe I’m wrong. I’m fascinated by the cymbal specialists
  • The xylophones might be my favorite part of the drumline...I do not apologize for this
  • Loved the big finish, with the drumline dancing around a bit. I dig it.

Overall, I give it a 6.5. They did just about as well as you can ask from a non-Nick-Cannon-led drumline, but it just isn’t as exciting a show as some other ones out there.

Just before the game resumed, I saw this tweet up on the video board. Absolutely incredible. 10/10, I might just follow this guy only to see his adorable infant children in various Notre Dame outfits.

2nd Half

As the 2nd half was just about to begin, the Purcell DJ was pumping in “X Gonna Give It To Ya” by DMX. Most of the crowd was moderately energized by it, but one fan in some section behind me was absolutely shrieking. Next-level banshee fan, well done.

The Irish came out scorching hot to start the half, as Pflueger finished an aggressive drive on the baseline with an awesome and-one circus shot. 20 seconds in, the Irish trailed by just 2.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After another Geben bucket tied it up, the two teams began to trade leads and runs. Teague dropped in a bucket after ANOTHER offensive rebound. Pflueger hit a 3-pointer. Ball State’s Tayler Persons drained a jumper. BONZIE got a very difficult layup to fall. Pflueger scores on an inbounds play. BONZIE gets a nasty swat and the crowd goes berserk. Persons hits another jumper. BONZIE completes an and-one.

At the under-16, ND had built up a 44-40 lead, having gone on a 15-6 run over a 4-minute span. Rex “Has Decided to Become a Big-Time Scorer” Pflueger had 8 of those 15 points.

During the timeout, the band played “Mr. Brightside” again, and damn it if that didn’t get the crowd goin’.

Also, during the break they were showing trivia, and a fun fact I learned from that is that Butler is the D1 team from Indiana that ND has played the most in its history. They’ve played 103 times (ND leads series 72-31). Neat!

As Farrell took an inbound underneath the hoop to resume play, he was briefly chatting with Digger.

Digger gave him some words of encouragement/coaching, and then the team got after it once again. Kyle Mallers hit a 3 to make it a 1-point game, and after a Gibbs turnover in the corner, the Cardinals scored in transition to take the lead. Moments later, another BSU fast break led to a layup, as the Irish were just not fast enough getting back after a miss. With 14:34 to play, Mike Brey called a timeout in hopes of preventing the 7-0 Ball State run (in 57 seconds, no less) from getting any worse.

A BONZIE jumper did just that, and the crowd rose to “Noisy” on the Noise Meter. COLSON fed off the noise, making a beautiful running one-hander to regain the lead. Again, though, the Cardinals responded, and the two teams began to trade baskets once more.

After a double dribble by COLSON led to a 52-50 Ball State lead at the under-12, I noticed Gold Jacket Guy AKA Brandon appeared to have short sleeves. Does he have a gold short sleeve button down (SSBD)???????? I will get to the bottom of this.

After a Cardinals 3 and a BONZIE bucket, Pflueger procured a steal and BONZIE found a cutting Geben for a dunk attempt thwarted only by a foul. Geben, Mr. Reliable at the line nowadays, hit both free throws to make it 55-54 Ball State.

With the crowd getting loud and begging for another stop, BONZIE got yet another steal and laid it in on the fast break, giving the Irish a 1-point lead with 9:50 to play. The Noise Meter, at this point, read “Cranked.”

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State once again replied to this, though, with a bucket and a three of their own, and it was all of a sudden 60-56 Cardinals with less than 9 minutes to go.

At the under-8 timeout, Ball State led 62-57, and so the Purcell DJ put on DMX’s “Party Up” in hopes of getting everyone to go crazy. Gibbs responded by making 1 of 2 free throws, but then saw Persons hit a pull-up, off-the-dribble three in his face, giving BSU a 65-58 lead with 7 minutes left.

After another Persons bucket, Brey called timeout to calm his team down once more. After a BONZIE free throw and an actual, honest-to-God stop by the ND defense, Matty Farrell FINALLY knocked down a three pointer, getting the crowd to “Cranked” levels.

BSU threw the ball away, and Farrell took advantage, driving to the hoop for another bucket. 67-64, Ball State.

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After a couple traded buckets, John Mooney did a great job of boxing out on defense, drawing an over-the-back call. ND proceeded to make 1 of 2 free throws, and then Ball State got a couple of their own, along with a bucket. 73-67, BSU.

Jeremie Tyler fouled out for Ball State, and as he headed to the bench, the students did the classic “Left, right, left, right” chant as he walked. Of course, Tyler decided to mess with them, stopping to stand near his coach and chat for a while before finally earning the “SIT DOWN!” from the students as he took his seat after a couple minutes. He was grinning the whole time.

After some Farrell free throws and another Ball State bucket, the Irish found themselves down 75-69 with about 2 minutes to play. Farrell had a fantastic drive and dish out to Gibbs on the perimeter, and the sophomore nailed a three to make it a 3-point affair with 1:44 remaining.

The Irish and Cardinals traded baskets after that, making it 77-74 in favor of the Cardinals. Farrell, who had just been tearing it up over those final 5-7 minutes, dropped in a three ball with 20 seconds left to tie it at 77, setting the stage for a dramatic finish as the Noise Meter showed the crowd at “Full Domer Level,” the highest level it can go.

Unfortunately for Irish fans, Tayler Persons was having none of the Irish comeback and wanted no part in having to play the surging ND team in overtime. Off the dribble and hounded by Pflueger, Persons pulled up from DEEP with a hand in his face, burying a three-pointer with just 1.7 seconds remaining. Onions.

After a 3/4-court heave by BONZIE ricocheted harmlessly off the backboard, the Cardinals celebrated joyously on the Purcell floor while the ND team solemnly walked to the student section to sing the alma mater with their fellow students.

Final Stats

Notre Dame: BONZIE COLSON led the way scoring-wise, pouring in 26 points to go along with 6 rebounds. Farrell’s flurry at the end resulted in his totals of 14 points and 8 assists, and Pflueger had another all-around decent game with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Geben, who had such a good first half with 8 and 5, finished with just 12 and 5, failing to come up with a rebound in the second half. The Irish shot 48% from the floor and 35% (6-of-17) from deep, and also missed 7-of-26 free throws that would have been nice to have down the stretch.

Ball State: Tayler Persons led the Cardinals with 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, and Tahjai Teague chipped in 13 points and 8 rebounds in just 15 minutes of action. Sellers had 11 and 7, and Moses 9 and 7, and Mallers contributed 8 and 4 himself. The Cardinals shot 46% from the field and 33% from deep, while also making 14-of-16 free throws (88%). They also outrebounded the Irish 40-26 on the game.

Stray Observations

  • First and foremost, ND did not deserve to win this game, so although I’m not glad the Irish lost it just before the buzzer, I do feel satisfied that this was the correct ending. Ball State straight up out-played Notre Dame in this game, and it showed especially on the boards. Ball State is not a particularly big team -- their 3 big men Teague, Mallers, and Moses are 6’8”, 6’7”, and 6’9”.

Now, Notre Dame isn’t exactly a huge team either, especially considering BONZIE is so undersized playing down low. But there was no excuse for a MAC team with only a couple big guys on the roster to out-rebound the Irish by FOURTEEN, especially in a home game.

The Irish played sloppy with the ball, didn’t play very good defense (or failed to box out when they did, resulting in tons of second and even third chances for BSU), and got some really bad games from Gibbs and Harvey, which hurt as well.

  • Second observation: Matt Farrell has to be better. We know BONZIE will get his just about every night. He will score, and he will rebound. But after him, Farrell HAS to be that second option and go-to guy to get things moving early on. ND has had 3 straight terrible starts to games, and Farrell hasn’t been a factor in any of them, shooting poorly and turning the ball over.

Of course, Farrell was reportedly sick at MSU and could still be feeling the effects of that, but he has gotta shoot better and get his teammates more good looks earlier than the last 5 minutes of games. If he gets back on track, this team can compete with just about anyone. If not, the ACC season is going to be a long one.

  • Let’s just stop for a second and give Tayler Persons major, major props. The kid plays hard, plays with fire, and had an answer every single time that ND got back into the game or took the lead. He was money today, and when he took that last shot, I knew deep down he was going to hit it. That’s just the kind of game he played. Is he actually the best player in the country, as the title of this article implies? I’m going to go with no, but damnit if he isn’t really good, and lots of fun to watch (unless you’re an Irish fan)
  • TJ Gibbs is struggling. I think part of it is his jump in minutes this season and being relied on to spell Pflueger guarding the best perimeter players, but on offense Gibbs has been very shaky lately. He gets out of control driving to the hoop, he has not been shooting very well, and his free throws have been horrid (6-of-15, or 40%, his last 3 games).

Brey needs to pull off one of his classic psychological turnarounds with him, as I think Gibbs will be needed and relied upon in ACC play and the team can’t afford to have him break down like this when the going gets tough. He’s a super tough and young kid, though, so I expect him to really bounce back.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
  • I like what Geben and Pflueger are bringing overall. Geben didn’t have a great second half, but both guys are confident, hustling, and generally doing their jobs. Pflueger especially has come on strong with his offense after looking very one-dimensional in the Maui Invitational
  • Can we get a shout out for Gary Jerry Larry Terry Gingrich Gergich, whose love of Muncie is second only to his love of his loving wife, Gail? Congrats on your favorite city’s favorite college winning such a big game for them, last night. I hope you got some Sherm’s and celebrated with a nice bath and an early bedtime!
  • The fans were not great last night. Obviously it’s hard to be super loud all game when the team is losing to Ball State, but when I saw the below Tim O’Malley tweet and looked around during T-shirt Toss Time late in the game, it was incredible how some fans actually seemed to get more excited for t-shirts than for the close game they were watching.

I realize Tim might also just be making a point about what Purcell is doing to get fans fired up, but either way, Purcell and its fans can and should do better.

  • My final thoughts: ND needs more of the “Tongue Boys” (a pretty unfortunate, but very accurate, name my friends and I applied here), AKA COLSON and Farrell absolutely taking over games and looking crazy while doing so, sticking their tongues out and performing other antics in celebration.
NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Even with 26 points, BONZIE didn’t seem to be dominating against Ball State like he has in other games in the past, and Farrell has obviously been off recently.

The Irish need more from their senior captains, especially in terms of fire and crazy things they do in celebration on the court. It doesn’t even have to be with their tongues sticking out, to be honest. I just think some more ridiculousness from them would go a long way. Please see below for more examples.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Virginia Cavaliers Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball: IUPU - Ft. Wayne at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I anticipate we’ll see plenty of it this season, but there’s been a lack of it recently and God knows ND needs the Tongue Boys back in their lives.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Wichita State at Notre Dame Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

FREE THE TONGUE BOYS!