Well folks, yesterday evening was my final game of credentialed media access for this season. I made it through 8 home games without being asked to leave the premises once, and got to see the Irish go 6-2 in-person with wins over teams like Louisville, Syracuse, and Florida State. Needless to say, I’ve quite enjoyed myself.
Last night I got to see the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take down a tough and resilient Georgia Tech team that had already beaten ND once this season, 64-60. It wasn’t the highest-scoring game Purcell has seen this season, but it was quite enjoyable and I plan on telling you why in these ensuing paragraphs. Let’s get on with it.
I don’t have much to say about the pregame festivities, as I spent a solid amount of time before tip-off filming a Facebook Live video for the One Foot Down page. Feel free to go back and watch all 27 minutes of footage, featuring me being unable to hold the camera still, the shot going sideways at one point when I tried to make it landscape instead of portrait, and lots of shots of the Irish shooting and burying rapid-fire jumpers.
Other than that, some items to note before the game started:
- Purcell actively advertised that they have more advanced hot dog toppings than the typical ketchup and mustard, mentioning things like chili and cheese, pulled pork and cole slaw, etc. Definitely didn’t think I’d see a targeted ad for basketball arena hot dogs when I woke up this morning...
- The Notre Dame College of Arts & Letters showed an advertisement on the video board that ended with the slogan “Study everything. Do anything.” This is blatantly false advertising. Not only can you NOT study EVERYTHING (e.g. I doubt April Ludgate’s major of Halloween Studies would be available in the College of Arts & Letters), but no matter what you study in college, you certainly cannot “do anything.” There are some jobs or tasks that are simply not possible for you to accomplish without the proper training and certifications. It’s reckless to think otherwise. Don’t believe everything you see on video boards, folks
- While I was filming the Facebook Live video, I noticed Marty Geben, while the rest of his teammates were getting shots in, threw a basketball as if he were a quarterback throwing a football, sending it off-screen to an unknown location. Then, as he admired his pass, he tossed both his hands in the air and signaled touchdown. If Brandon Wimbush doesn’t work out this season, I know who QB coach “Tom” Rees is going to recommend for the job...
Notre Dame starters: G Rexy Pflueger, G Matty Farrell, F BONZIE COLSON, G Stevie Vasturia, and F VJ-ie Beachem
Georgia Tech starters: F Quinton Stephens, C Ben Lammers, G Corey Heyward, G Josh Heath, and G Josh Okogie
The game began like any other, with VJ Beachem tossing in a three-pointer as the student section unleashed a masterpiece of beautiful newspaper scraps into the air. After a couple free throws by Rex Pflueger gave ND a 5-0 advantage, the Yellow Jackets scored 6 straight to take the lead.
On the go-ahead bucket by Josh Okogie, he drew a foul, and on the free throw the ND student section got started early by yelling “YOU WILL NOT MAKE THIS SHOT!” at the freshman guard. Okogie missed the shot, continuing the Leprechaun Legion’s run of being the best free throw defense in the country.
BONZIE took a Georgia Tech pass off the face just a few minutes in, and had to leave the game to collect himself and plan out his meticulous and measured revenge on the Yellow Jackets. In the meantime, Austin Torres came in the game and looked very out of sorts, getting beaten on defense multiple times and turning the ball over by making a beautiful dish to the other team. BONZIE soon came back in, thank the good Lord.
After a pfantastic Pflueger pfass found a cutting VJ Beachem for an easy dunk, the game was tied 9-9 with 5 minutes gone. After Tech took a 13-9 lead with some easy buckets on some bad ND defense, White Steve showed that the week of rest was just what he needed, knocking down a three-ball to cut the lead to one at the under-16 timeout.
During that timeout, the video board showed Austin Carr, who was in attendance, and he was quickly honored with a standing ovation while the video board showed various stats about him while that was happening. A couple things I found maybe-sorta-kinda impressive: Carr had TWO different seasons where he had an ND-record 23 30-point games, and he had NINE 50-point games in his three-year college career. Carr is one of the greatest college basketball players of all-time, there is no doubt about it.
After that Austin Carr moment, the screen showed one of its patented “Get Loud” promotions, with the players urging the crowd to make noise. As always, Rex Pflueger and Marty Geben are naturals on camera and easily the ones who are able to get the most fans out of their seats and yelling. Elijah Burns, on the other hand, could cut loose a little more, I think. Something for him to think about.
With the Noise Meter at “Roaring,” the action resumed with BONZIE attacking the 6’10” Ben Lammers down low with no fear or hesitation despite the 5-inch height difference. BONZIE also realized the size difference could be used for good in other ways, and stepped outside to knock down a three and give the Irish a 17-15 lead with 12:30 to play in the half.
At the under-12 timeout, the cheerleaders came onto the court to lead the crowd in that classic alternating chant of “GO!” and “IRISH!” At this point, they’ve gotta be considering dropping this cheer altogether, as the student section used the moment to once again execute the far superior “MIKE!” “BREY!” chant at the same time. It was very well done by the students (per usual), and this time even featured an Arnold Schwarzenegger cardboard cutout head being hoisted aloft for every utterance of “BREY!” by the Legion.
This was karma for the cheerleaders, as their “GO IRISH” chant cut off Usher’s “Yeah” being played by the DJ. You just don’t cut off the 2004 party anthem of the year, ya know?
Before coming back to the action, the video board showed some stars from the student section, beginning with the kid in the front who always has a dry-erase white board, and this time he proudly showed us that it said “Lammers Eats Unfrosted Pop Tarts.” Beautiful.
Then, a kid who was dressed as Mike Brey from a bygone era (blazer and mock turtleneck, of course) was shown side-by-side with live video of Brey himself on the sideline, and, naturally, the crowd went crazy. This was incredibly well done by the Purcell video production staff.
A Matt Ryan 3-pointer and a couple “AIIIIIIRRRRBAAAAAALLL!” chants from the students brought us to a loose ball that saw various players hitting the deck and an off-balanced-but-hustling BONZIE basically bear crawling over the body of a Yellow Jacket player who was lying on the floor with the ball in his hands. This bear crawling technique BONZIE utilized was clearly foreign to the Tech player, who proceeded to roll away, frightened, and picked up a traveling call.
After a Lammers and-one dunk, the two teams were knotted at 20 with less than 10 minutes left in the 1st half.
On a possession soon after, a Georgia Tech player deflected an ND entry pass into the stands, and although their team did not get the ball, the entire Georgia Tech bench jumped up and applauded the play. I knew these guys were good at defense, but I had no idea they were such nerds about it and would get excited over something so mundane and useless as that deflection. Nonetheless, I respect the commitment and the unity they showed in doing so.
At another moment soon after that, TJ Gibbs drew an on-the-floor foul while driving to the hoop, and then kicked the ball out to Pflueger, who put up a meaningless 3-point shot just because he felt like it. I mention this because he hit it, and I randomly spied a member of the Leprechaun Legion make the “count it” hand motion. That was great and I agree with his logic.
At the under-8 timeout, the two teams had made little progress from before, with Notre Dame leading 22-20. During that brief intermission, the Pom Squad came out for its first performance of the evening. They once again decided to forsake their namesake, as they tossed their pom poms in front of them and earned an “OHHHHHHH!” from the students as they did so. The “squad” then proceeded to dance to Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” before reclaiming their poms and transforming back into the Pom Squad.
After a Dance Cam featuring the musical stylings of that Whip Whip Nae Nae song, BONZIE COLSON decided to once again show why he is the rightful heir to the throne of ACC Player of the Year, going on a personal 7-0 run over a 3-minute and 35-second span that included multiple steals, a follow-up tip-in, and a trailer 3-ball. His play literally moved the needle, as the Noise Meter increased to “Cranked” and the Irish lead became 27-20.
COLSON also had 12 of the Irish’s last 15 points at that juncture, which is also pretty damn impressive.
After Tech cut it to 27-24 with a couple buckets, Matty Farrell pulled up from 3 in transition, burying his shot as the crowd went nuts about the 30-24 lead ND took into the under-4 timeout.
This timeout was an interesting one for me, as the band played what my friends and I call “the DUH DUH DUH song” but what most of you would call “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers. This song is special because every time that song plays at the Backer, all the band kids there start doing this weird organized dance. My friends and I don’t know that dance, though, and since we are idiots, we just shout “DUH DUH DUH” for the entirety of the song, enraging those band kids and bringing us irrational joy. I was having a hard time not shouting “DUH DUH DUH” from the press box, but decided I didn’t want to get kicked out of my last game of the year. Well, at least not yet.
As the song ended, the cheerleaders led the arena in T-Shirt Toss Time, and I chuckled to myself as I counted at least 20 different adults jumping up and down and waving their arms, trying to get a free t-shirt that is clearly not meant for someone like them.
Life advice for you all: find someone who loves you as much as those adults love T-Shirt Toss Time.
Okay, back to what was going on on the basketball court:
Austin Torres shot the worst free throw I’ve ever seen in my life, and that includes when a kid on my 8TH GRADE team shot a free throw in practice over the entire hoop. Torres’ shot was an air ball that was also way to the right somehow. I cannot fathom how that shot could have happened at this level. Love it, and love you so much Austin Torres.
Always ready to help out his teammates from further pain and embarrassment, Pflueger proceeded to drain a three to make it a 34-26 game with 1:37 left in the half. After TJ Gibbs drew an offensive foul on Georgia Tech while flying backwards 20+ feet, the student section decided they didn’t want to be perfect for the game, chanting “WE ARE! ND!” with 36 seconds left in the first half of a game against a 16-11 team wherein the Irish were ahead by 6 measly points. I’ll seriously never understand who decides to start that chant at that kind of moment, but I hope they lose the power to do so very soon.
At halftime, Notre Dame held a 34-28 lead over Georgia Tech.
Notre Dame halftime stats: BONZIE had 12 points and 6 rebounds; Pflueger, Beachem, and White Steve all had 5 points, Farrell had just 3 points after only taking 2 shots...the Fighting Irish shot 41.4% from the field, 38.9% from long range, and 75% from the charity stripe
Georgia Tech halftime stats: Josh Okogie had 11 points and 5 rebounds, Ben Lammers had 7 points and 3 rebounds, Josh Heath had 6 points and 3 boards, and Tadric Jackson added 4 points. The Yellow Jackets’ lack of depth showed in the first half, as only 4 players scored in that shallow rotation that coach Josh Pastner uses...the Yellow Jackets shot 50% from the field, 25% from 3-point range, and 50% from the charity stripe. They also had 9 turnovers and just 5 assists.
As is par for the course, it’s time to rate this game’s halftime show on a scale of 1 to Red Panda.
Halftime began as it often does, with someone being named “Fan of the Game” and honored with a commemorative team ball at center court. Yesterday’s honorees were Jim and Judy Rudhman, who are “self-described super fans.” I was a big fan of them for two reasons:
- The last name “Rudhman” is fantastic and gives Jim and Judy a built-in excuse to be rude to people (because they can just blame it on the name)
- When the ball was awarded to them, I’m pretty certain Purcell played a song from the Remember the Titans soundtrack, and if you’re gonna know anything about me at all, you need to know that I am obsessed with anything and everything related to that movie
After the rude people got off the court, the main event got under way. This particular choice of entertainment was the Alexandria Aces Basketball Performance Team, which we were told consists of children ages 3(!) to 12 from Alexandria, Minnesota who perform basketball dribbling and spinning tricks.
The crew of kids on the floor started out slow, easing into their performance by executing basic behind-the-back and through-the-legs moves, displaying sound dribbling technique as they proceeded to then dribble through other team members’ legs as “Mr. Blue Sky” played in the background.
Then, the kids went to various ends of the court and took turns running out and doing cool spinning tricks, including spinning while sitting on the floor, spinning the ball behind their backs, spinning the ball through their legs, etc.
In between every kid doing a trick, there are separate kids who just run around and high five each other before returning to the sideline. I have no idea what this adds to the show, but I love it and could definitely see myself in that role, considering I can’t spin a basketball on my finger to save my life (gotta assume that situation won’t come up anyway, but still).
At one point, one of the children did a headstand while another kid spun a ball on her shoe. That was pretty sweet.
Then, a tiny kid who I can only assume is the 3-year-old mentioned earlier came to half-court dribbling a huge inflatable basketball. He passed the ball off to another kid, then did a cartwheel and a dab for good measure, causing a stir in the student section, full of known dab-enthusiasts.
The kid who received the big inflatable ball proceeded to spin it on his finger, toss it in the air, head-butt it, and then catch it on his finger again, still spinning.
After that display of expertise in huge beach ball spinning, the kids all formed a spinning circle at center court. I saw one of the kids drop his basketball at this point, but he handled it so professionally that I didn’t feel like it took away from the show. Props to him, he’s clearly been there before.
They all then went backs-to-backs in a circle as they did more dribbling tricks, and then ALL of them did backwards somersaults while spinning the ball on their finger, not dropping it or letting it stop spinning. Respect.
Then, everything just got B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
A kid came out and did pushups while spinning a ball, and then a bunch of kids zoomed by each other while spinning basketballs, riding their Heelys at top speeds and earning another loud cheer from the crowd.
Then other kids started leaping over the kids spinning balls while skating around on Heelys, and then everyone started doing dynamic dribbling tricks, such as dribbling with knees, dribbling multiple balls at one time, etc.
The tiny kid came back out and was handed a couple balls that others got spinning, and then he was given a third ball on a balance pole thing that he held in his mouth, spinning three balls total and once again gaining a big round of applause.
Then, a 12-year-old was brought out to attempt a “first time ever” feat, completing 7 consecutive backwards somersaults while keeping the ball spinning. AND BOY DID SHE DO IT!
For the finale, a shiny disco-ball-looking basketball was brought out and spun on this long extendable pole that a girl appeared to balance on her face. It basically looked like she raised a spinning disco ball in the middle of a circle of kids dancing with basketballs, and the crowd loved it. The lady sitting immediately in front of the press box was pulling out her favorite disco dancing moves, and everyone was having a great time.
That was the end of the show, and I have to say that I loved every second of it. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat like I am for Red Panda, but of course nothing could ever have the same effect on me that she does.
I give the Alexandria Aces a 9.9 out of 10 for being everything but Red Panda, and I can’t wait to find their contact information to see if they want to perform at halftime of one of my work league basketball games.
The Irish got the 2nd half started by throwing the ball directly to Georgia Tech, and then Georgia Tech, clearly not trying to be bested in the mistake department, air-balled a shot to induce the 3rd “AIIIIRRRRRBAAAAALLLLL” chant of the evening from the student section.
After GT made it 34-30 with a bucket, Matt Farrell nailed a 3-pointer in the corner off of a nice kick-out pass from Pflueger, making it 37-30 with just under 18 minutes to play. A Ben Lammers put-back slam soon after made it 37-32, but BONZIE responded with a 3-point-play to push the lead to 8 with 16:36 left.
During the next timeout, the pom squad performed and again ditched their pom poms midway through the routine. What’s even the point?
After a VJ Beachem 3 made it 43-34, the Yellow Jackets scored 5 straight points while the Irish looked not great, causing Mike Brey to call a timeout at the 12:05 mark. 35 seconds later, at the under-12 timeout, the score was the same, with ND up 43-39.
Looking to pull Lammers out of the lane and exploit him more, BONZIE knocked down another 3-pointer to make it 46-39, but Quinton Stephens immediately came back with an easy layup to cut the deficit to 5.
A couple possessions later, BONZIE managed to steal the ball after a Georgia Tech defensive rebound, and found Gibbs for a bucket to make it 48-41 with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game.
The student section then dusted off an old classic chant from the Florida State game, chanting “TWO-FOR-FIVE” at Ben Lammers as he shot a free throw. Lammers was unfazed, though, knocking it down to make it 48-42 (and 3-for-6 from the line).
After a couple Farrell free throws and a moment where it looked like Farrell might have pretended to pat the ref on his tookus after the ref made a questionable foul call on ND, we had the under-8 timeout and a 50-42 Fighting Irish lead.
When play resumed, Matt Farrell took a shot and missed, causing this one lady to the right of the press box to do what she always does: loudly and personally address Matt Farrell every time he does something not perfect. She’ll shout things like “C’mon Matt, you can’t take and miss that shot!” or “C’mon Matt, don’t throw the ball away!” Gotta wonder if maybe she played a little pro ball back in the day with insight like that.
Lammers knocked down a couple free throws after BONZIE was called for a foul (breathed on Lammers too forcefully and Lammers fell over), but BONZIE came back on the other end and hit a shot in the paint over Lammers, making it 52-44. It was 52-46 with 5:23 left when Tech coach Josh Pastner called a timeout, and after some badly missed shots by ND, Georgia Tech made it a 52-48 game with less than 5 minutes remaining.
At that point, Mike Brey called another timeout right before a TV timeout, with 4:06 to play. I think this timeout is the one that saved the game for the Irish, though, as the band played a great rendition of “Mr. Brightside” that made me really want to get up on the counter of the press box and lead Purcell in song. Alas, I did not.
Just before action resumed, the Purcell DJ, with his or her finger forever on the pulse of the American public, played “Crazy Train” to get the crowd pumped. However, the Noise Meter shockingly showed the arena only reaching “Loud.” Not the craziest train you’ve ever seen, that’s for sure.
With less than 4 minutes left, the Irish had a shot clock that was winding down when a series of passes and deflections ended with a loose ball bouncing out to Matt Farrell. Farrell had to quickly toss up a ridiculous long two-point jumper, and it somehow went in to extend the Irish lead to 54-48. Farrell seems to have a knack for shots like this.
In this moment, the crowd was its loudest, as the student section led the way in a Purcell-wide “LET’S GO IRISH!” chant that honestly gave me a few goosebumps. ND proceeded to get a stop and then White Steve was able to hit a reverse layup to force a Georgia Tech timeout with 3 minutes to play and a 56-48 Irish lead.
During this timeout, with the entire crowd going nuts, the DJ put on that “Let’s Get Ridiculous” song. It was okay for the situation, but if Purcell had started blasting “Sandstorm” at that moment, I think the roof would have been blown off. Huge missed opportunity there by the crowd and arena to put the game away.
With the Noise Meter showing “Cranked,” the players got back to it, as we saw Tech’s Tadric Jackson hit a jumper to keep the Yellow Jackets in the game. After a pair of Matty F freebies, ND led 58-50 with 1:47 on the clock. Soon after, BONZIE annihilated some poor sap’s shot attempt, and after ND finally got a defensive board, Farrell drew another foul to earn two free throws that he promptly drilled, making it 60-50.
At this point, amazingly, I saw a bunch of people leaving the game to, I guess, beat traffic? It was a game that was still at least sort of in doubt, and a game ND was winning, at that. Can’t say I understand your logic or your lack of dedication to the team, guy who left and was wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey.
The foul that put Farrell to the line for those two free throws was the 5th such foul for Quinton Stephens. The student section did the classic “LEFT! RIGHT! LEFT! RIGHT!” chant as he walked to the bench, but Stephens got the best of everyone as he faked a sit-down, causing the students to scream “SIT DOWN!” prematurely and look reallllllly dumb when he was still standing there staring at them. Props to Stephens for having some fun and getting the best of a damn clever student section.
Looking for a confidence boost, the students decided to do another Mike Brey chant, and it was just as loud and fantastic as the one in the first half. The guy who was dressed as Mike Brey was even holding the sign that said “BREY” on it, so it was a powerful moment.
Georgia Tech continued to hang around, though, as Tadric Jackson hit a 3-pointer and a layup to make it 60-55 with a little less than a minute left. Pflueger got absolutely trucked by a GT player at mid-court to earn two shots, but only made one of two, still shaken from the collision.
With a 61-55 lead, the Irish then gave up another 3-pointer to Tadric “Irish Kryptonite” Jackson, making it just a 3-point game with plenty of time left. Jackson missed the instruction from Pastner not to foul after that, though, and he sent Farrell to the line for 2, making it 62-58 after Farrell missed one.
BONZIE got another emphatic swat on the next GT possession, but Heath recovered the loose ball and made a shot, changing the score to 62-60 with 3 seconds left.
However, it proved to be too little, too late, as Farrell was fouled again and hit both free throws to seal it for Notre Dame.
Final score: ND 64, GT 60
After the game ended, Mike Brey continued to be the most likable coach in America, running to the student section to join them arm-in-arm for the alma mater.
This was an especially awesome moment, because he stood with his arms around the kid who was dressed up like him, clearly loving every second of the time he can spend with such an awesome student section. Mike Brey is the best.
Notre Dame final stats: BONZIE had 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks, Farrell had 17 points, White Steve had 7 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds, Pflueger chipped in 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, and VJ added 8 points...the Fighting Irish shot 35.1% from the field, 34.5% from 3, and 77.8% from the free throw line
Georgia Tech final stats: Just like in the last meeting between these two teams, Tadric Jackson led the way again with 20 points, while Lammers had 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Josh Heath had a solid 12-point, 9-rebound effort, and Josh Okogie had a double-double as well with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Georgia Tech had 7 total assists on 26 field goals, compared to Notre Dame’s 12 assists on 20 field goals...the Yellow Jackets shot 44.8% from the field, 20% from 3, and 62.5% from the free throw line
- The very first stray observation I made once the game began was that #30 on Georgia Tech, who I soon identified as Corey Heyward, is a, for lack of a better term, very beefy-looking guy, especially for a guard. I don’t have any further insight here, but I just felt like I needed to say that, as it really caught me off guard early on
- Rex Pflueger is the Picasso of pump-faking on three pointers and then driving into the paint, only to then pass it back out to the perimeter. It’s become incredibly predictable but it keeps working
- I can’t say this enough - we are SO freaking lucky as fans to have a coach like Mike Brey. He’s one of the best in the country at what he does, he is supremely likable and personable and interesting, and he’s just a great guy and leader of young men. It pains me to think about how much more support a program like Brian Kelly’s football team has when a more fun, likable, successful team in a major sport is just next door and quietly putting together a third consecutive stupendous season. As Josh Pastner said at the end of his presser, enjoy Mike Brey, and do not take him for granted. The dude is an absolute GEM
- Marty Geben didn’t play today at all. Very sad that the Bird Whisperer hasn’t been able to figure things out, but the team is just playing better without him or much of Torres in the game
- This picture of White Steve is amazing
- Tadric Jackson can play for my team any day. Dude has been absolutely lethal against ND and has no problem taking and making big shots in the last few minutes of a game. I’m a big fan
- When I walked into the room for the coaches’ press conferences after the game, Austin Carr was walking out, likely to use the restroom or something before the coaches got there. I didn’t see anything because I’d already entered the room, but from what I could hear, some lady basically attacked him out in the hallway (with her voice) and was shouting “AUSTIN CARR! I WAS CLASS OF 19-SOMETHING AND THIS IS MY HUSBAND, CLASS OF 19-SOMETHING, AND YOU WERE MY FAVORITE PLAYER EVER! IT IS SUCH AN HONOR TO MEET YOU OH MY GOD!” Austin Carr handled it like a guy who’s used to getting swamped by fans, but oh my goodness was that an obnoxious way to introduce yourself to your hero
- Tweets I liked:
Appropriate-aged humans jumping up and down for t-shirts:
This is awesome
The only two millennials in America who don’t know how to take selfies
What the damn hell?
Seriously, what the damn hell.
I will never understand
QB buddies enjoying a fun event
This is adorable
Not sure I understand, but #StayWoke nonetheless
This v. wise child
My friend Conor not being there on business
This guy is just a fan of the hashtag
Could not agree more
Someone check to see if Micah is okay
Okay guys, that’s it. Great 11th win by the Irish in conference play, and here’s to an awesome final stretch of ND basketball as we get into March and all the madness that entails!