The fifth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first game of the round of 32 in this year’s NCAA Tournament Saturday afternoon. The Irish dismissed the Princeton Tigers in the first round, while West Virginia was coming off an 86-60 win over the Bucknell Bison.
It was ugly early on for the Irish, missing on their first five shots. West Virginia used the opportunity to go on a 10-0, forcing Mike Brey to call a timeout. After staying cold, confused, and bothered by West Virginia’s defense for a good eight minutes, it did not look good for the Fighting Irish.
However, Notre Dame got a spark from a sequence that saw defense turning to offense. A Matt Ryan steal, a Matt Farrell three-pointer, a massive Martin Geben block and a Matt Farrell jumper forced Bob Huggins to call a timeout with a little over 11 minutes left in the first half.
If you’ve been watching the NCAA Tournament at this point, then you know that commercial breaks take like, six minutes. It feels like an hour. You can imagine what that will do to your momentum.
Throughout the rest of the first half, the press bothered Notre Dame. They turned the ball over six times early, and West Virginia capitalized. V.J. Beachem’s shot was flat, and it seemed as if he and Vasturia are pretty much spent at this point.
Then, they came alive for a few minutes. Some shots fell for the duo, and West Virginia’s lead shrunk to three. But then the turnovers hit again. Notre Dame relied on free throws to keep within shouting distance, but headed into the locker room for half time trailing by seven, 42-35. It was a little rough to watch, with the Irish committing 10 turnovers to match their ten field goals. In addition, the teams were whistled for a total of 17 fouls between them.
In the second half, the Irish made it interesting. They again pulled within four, but West Virginia hit a few threes in a row, and it felt like despite 12 minutes remaining, it didn’t look like Notre Dame had a great shot to make anything happen. Factor in West Virginia being in the bonus with ten minutes left, and it didn’t look good. The Irish would get within six with two minutes and change left, but it ultimately ended up being futile. 83 - 71 is your final.
Colson had 27 points and played half of the second half with four fouls. West Virginia shot 50 percent from the floor and 57 percent (!!!) from three, which felt like a bad joke, seeing as they shot 36 percent on the year. Notre Dame shot 37 percent from three. Determined to outdo an oddly called first half, refs called a total of 22 fouls in the second half. Lots of fun to watch.
That’s a wrap on the Notre Dame basketball season. After back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, the Irish drop their round-of-32 game. What a ride.