I have no idea where to begin with this one, you guys.
In the past 36 hours, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball program has:
- Lost its most important and best player for potentially the rest of his final season
- Seen its other star senior go down with an ankle injury
- Banded together with the young players remaining to absolutely annihilate an ACC opponent
- Celebrated the most likable coach ever becoming the winningest coach in program history
It’s been a roller coaster.
Let me just say right now, before I dive into the details of a blissful and blizzard-y evening of Irish hoops, that crushing a very bad NC State Wolfpack team at home does not necessarily mean this season can be salvaged in terms of making the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack are terrible, the Irish caught them at home on a horrific shooting night (maybe somewhat caused by ND defense, but still...) while simultaneously having a fantastic shooting night without their top two scorers.
It won’t be that easy or that smooth or that happy when the Irish visit the Carrier Dome on Saturday (ND is 2-9 there under Brey), and there will be plenty of major struggles and growing pains as ND gets into the meat of the ACC schedule after this soft start (3 of the first 4 games played against Georgia Tech and NC State).
Now, with that expectation-grounding out of the way, let’s talk about what was an unbelievably uplifting and promising performance by a bunch of young guys who we weren’t sure could step up at all, even in a game like this.
Let’s talk about Mike Brey’s record-setting win and the joyous celebration afterward.
Let’s talk about all the Martinas “Bird Whisperer” Geben dunks and DJ Harvey swishes and TJ Gibbs buckets and Austin Torres free throws that we can.
Let’s talk about how amazing this coach and these players and this program are. They deserve it.
Unfortunately for me, the weather in the Michiana area has been absolute garbage since I got back from Christmas/New Year’s in Indianapolis, and so I made the wise but sad decision to stay home from last night’s game, knowing full well I might be missing Brey’s record-setting night (in good weather it’s a 45-minute drive each way for me, so add on more driving time due to the snowstorms and also it being a 9 PM game and the postgame coverage afterward, I just couldn’t make myself go).
So, I headed to the living room of my apartment at about 8:45 PM, flipped on the end of the Florida State Seminoles’ big win over the North Carolina Tar Heels, and then navigated to the Notre Dame pregame just in time to see the tail-end of some segment where Rex Pflueger beat a TV reporter in a game of P-I-G.
The local station the game coverage was on then went to commercial, and I was dismayed to hear “We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for this important nerd alert!” as Big Bang Theory characters appeared on the screen. I turned the channel, waited 45 seconds, then turned it back. That show is not very good, you guys.
I was able to catch some amazing local commercials once I flipped back, including a commercial for a place called Penguin Point. The ad was LIT, and featured the happiest group of people working and eating at a fast food restaurant I have ever seen. I definitely need to visit that place ASAP. Here’s a commercial of theirs from 1977, which is just as awesome:
Once I got over my need to go to Penguin Point right that very instant, the game got started. As is usual with basketball games, each team started 5 players. Here they are.
NC State Starters:
#1 Lennard Freeman, F, 6’8”, Senior
#14 Omer Yurtseven, C, 7’0”, Sophomore
#2 Torin Dorn, G, 6’5”, Junior
#12 Allerik Freeman, G, 6’3”, Senior
#10, Braxton Beverly, G, 6’0”, Freshman
#5 Matt Farrell, G, 6’1”, Senior
#10 TJ Gibbs, G, 6’3”, Sophomore
#0 Rex Pflueger, G, 6’6”, Junior
#23 Martinas Geben, F, 6’10”, Senior
#3 DJ Harvey, G, 6’6”, Freshman
Like most of you, I was absolutely expecting the team to get down early. I just figured it’d be a somber mood in the locker room with BONZIE out, and that the team would have nowhere to turn besides Matt Farrell for the scoring necessary to win a game against a team who beat Arizona earlier this year on a neutral floor.
Instead, the Fighting Irish started off the game pretty strong, with TJ Gibbs burying a three-pointer as the game’s first basket, and then after NC State responded by scoring a quick 5 points, The Bird Whisperer threw down one of his patented two-handed thunder dunks and DJ Harvey, who has been very shaky of late, drained a three of his own.
The Irish kept it going, too. Matt Farrell tossed a gorgeous alley-oop to Rex Pflueger, and then moments later Pflueger stole an NC State pass and made a nice double-clutch layup in transition. At the first media timeout, Notre Dame led 12-7 and looked ready to take this game, despite their best player being missing.
During the timeout’s commercial break, I got to once again see the New York Life commercial that features Lou Bega and his hit song “Mambo No. 5.” I didn’t really pay attention to what the commercial was actually saying, but damnit if I don’t STILL love that song after all these years. Can’t wait for him to release “Mambo No. 6.”
Returning from the break, the Wolfpack notched a couple buckets to tie the game at 12. That’s when Matt Farrell decided he wanted to get back to his ways of draining all sorts of three pointers — first with a feathery pull-up deep-ball that tickled the twine to the tune of a 15-12 ND lead, and then with a ridiculous, running (but not running toward the hoop), almost sideways-moving three pointer at the shot clock buzzer to make it 18-12, Irish.
How does Farrell always end up hitting ridiculous shot clock buzzer beaters like that??? I have no answer, but I am so so so glad he does.
After a bad cross-court ND pass was picked off by NC State and converted into a three pointer of the Wolfpack’s own, Gibbs answered by driving the ball to the hoop for a bucket. This was followed up a couple possessions later with another classic Geben slam on a very nice feed from Farrell, and then Farrell hit another 3.
NC State kept with it, though, as an Abdul-Malik Abu jumper made it 25-22, ND, with 10 minutes to play in the half.
Later, DJ Harvey got a nice dunk in transition to extend ND’s lead to 6, and Farrell then followed that up with an absolutely gorgeous pass to Nikola Djogo in transition for another dunk, making it 30-22 in the Irish’s favor with just over 8 minutes left in the half. Dunks du Lac seems to be making a modest return here, folks.
After another DJ Harvey three made it 33-24, Notre Dame, at about the 6:30 mark, Matt Farrell went down on a rough fall as he drove full speed to the hoop, rolling his ankle in the process and having to limp off the court.
As he was brought to the locker room to be looked at, Gibbs and Pflueger hit back-to-back threes to make it a 39-26 game. Djogo found Gibbs on a fast break to then make it 41-26, making it a 19-6 run for the Irish over the course of 7 minutes.
A Harvey pull-up long two-pointer was then sandwiched in between and-one buckets by NC State, pulling the Wolfpack back within 11. Harvey responded in kind, though, draining another deep ball and then forcing a carry by NC State on the defensive end.
After the Wolfpack pulled within 10, The Bird Whisperer dropped in a nice little jump hook to make it 48-36, our halftime score.
Notre Dame: DJ Harvey led the way with 13 points on 3-of-4 shooting from deep, while TJ Gibbs added 11 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. Matt Farrell scored 9 points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point-land, and also added 4 assists before he left the game with his injury. Notre Dame shot 61% from the field in the first half and 50% from deep, hitting 9 of 18 shots from distance. The Irish also had 13 first half assists and just 6 turnovers.
NC State: Allerik Freeman scored 9 points and had 3 rebounds in the first half, while Torin Dorn added 6 points of his own and freshman Braxton Beverly played a pretty solid half of his own, scoring 6 and assisting on 4 other baskets. NC State shot 47% from the field and 57% from deep in the first half, but also had 9 turnovers.
Because I was not at the game, I had to rely on some notes sent to me by One Foot Down’s very own Bobby Norell. Here is what I gathered about the halftime show:
- It was a three point shooting contest between a girl wearing Sperrys and a guy wearing some tight jeans
- All participants were not that good at shooting
- Girl in Sperrys “smoked” Guy in Tight Jeans, causing the crowd to cheer enthusiastically in the background as I watched the TV broadcasters talk about the game
- Apparently, Girl in Sperrys used to be a basketball manager for the women’s team
- Girl in Sperrys is a ringer
- I’m here for it (not physically — by this I mean I’m all for a ringer coming in and dominating a contest like this)
- The prize Girl in Sperrys won was a Maui Jim Prize Pack...that tournament is just the gift that keeps on giving, eh?
Looking at all of this, I’d give it a 2 on the scale of 1 to Red Panda, if I absolutely have to rate it. Otherwise, I give it “N/A” on a scale of 1 to Red Panda, because I did not see the contest at all. It seemed pretty run-of-the-mill and not super exciting, though, so I don’t think it deserves anything higher than a 2.
Prior to the beginning of the 2nd half, my informer on the street Bobby Norell notified me that Matt Farrell was not warming up with the rest of the team in pre-2nd-half warmups. He clearly would not be playing for the rest of the game.
The beginning of the second half did indeed look a little more “uh oh” for the Irish, at least on offense, as the first couple minutes saw ND not scoring any points. Luckily, neither did NC State, as the Irish defense played well and the Wolfpack were ice cold shooting the ball.
Geben had an awesome blocked shot that he pinned against the backboard, and John Mooney got himself a block down low as well. These guys need to keep making plays on defense and in rebounding if this team wants to have any shot against better squads.
On the offensive end, I noticed Matt Farrell standing up on the bench during each possession, giving his teammates on the floor instructions and pointing out where to go with the ball. Even when doing this, he was noticeably limping when even just shuffling a couple inches, but despite that it was awesome to see how he (and COLSON, who the broadcasters noted similar behavior from earlier in the game) was so proactive in helping guide his young teammates from the bench. That’s leadership, and it will be sorely needed as this team tries to navigate ACC play without its best player(s).
The Irish finally got on the board at around the 17:30 mark with a nice dish from Pflueger to Geben that set up a bucket. Notre Dame added a free throw to make it 51-36 at the under-16 timeout, and at that point NC State hadn’t scored a point since the 0:48-mark in the first half, or 4:56 of total game time.
Gibbs did his best Matty Farrell impression by hitting a shot clock buzzer-beating 3 to put the Irish up 18. Then, NC State finally killed their scoreless streak, hitting a pair of free throws to cap the 5-minute, 41-second streak of scoring no points. It would be a total of 9 minutes and 45 seconds from that final 1st half basket until NC State made their next field goal, with 11:03 remaining in the game.
As the half continued on, Austin Torres drew multiple charges (I still think all charges should be banned, but I guess I’m happy Torres is exploiting this dumb rule and forcing opponent turnovers!). After some Pflueger free throws and one Elijah Burns free throw, the Irish led 57-38.
When Burns drew his foul, I immediately yelled out loud (and then sent a message in the One Foot Down staff Slack) that Burns needs to learn how to dunk and not go up so softly for baskets down low. He’s a strong guy, he should be able to do it!
After a Harvey jumper and some more Gibbs points bring the Irish lead to 25, Elijah Burns went ahead and took my brilliant coaching advice and dunked the hell out of the ball. I love it when they listen to me.
Also, let me note that at this point, the Irish are up 27 and have significantly increased their lead with both Austin Torres and Elijah Burns on the floor — two big men who are expected to add next to nothing offensively. This was a very impressive stretch for the team.
After NC State finally got their field goal at the 11:03 mark, the two teams traded a few baskets and the Wolfpack even chipped away at the lead, cutting it to a 23-point deficit at the 5-minute mark.
Later on, there was a Notre Dame possession where the fans were audibly yelling for the guards to pass the ball to Geben on the block. They finally got it to him, and he immediately made a GORGEOUS pass to a cutting Torres for smooth and-one bucket. Not only was that a sight to see, but guess what Torres then proceeded to do.
That’s right, he sunk the Goddamn free throw as if he were Marty Geben in the Maui Invitational.
Some more Rex Pflueger buckets and a little more scoring from NC State helped bring the final tally to 88-58 and Mike Brey’s win total at Notre Dame to 394, surpassing Digger Phelps on the all-time program leaderboard. Not too shabby, considering who wasn’t playing last night, right?
Notre Dame: TJ Gibbs led the way with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. DJ Harvey looked spectacular (especially relative to his recent performances) in scoring 17 points on very efficient 6-of-9 shooting. Rex Pflueger had himself a very good game as well, scoring 16 points and adding 4 rebounds and 4 assists Finally, Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben put up a double-double in a very impressive and gutsy performance down low, scoring 10 points and snagging 13 rebounds. The Irish’s final shooting percentages were 52% overall, 44% from 3 (11-of-25), and 76% from the free throw line (19-of-25). They out-rebounded the Wolfpack 41-30 and had 20 assists on the evening.
NC State: NC State was led by Allerik Freeman with 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Lennard Freeman scored 10, Torin Dorn added 9 points and 5 rebounds, and Braxton Beverly had 8 points and 5 assists. The Wolfpack shot an abysmal 27% from the field and an even worse 18% from deep while also hitting just 8 of 15 free throws. They turned the ball over 15 times and had only 12 assists.
The main cause of my sadness for not being at this game was because I knew if Brey won his 394th, there’d be a great postgame ceremony to honor that feat. Luckily, the Notre Dame basketball communications team does some pretty great work, and everything in postgame was streamed live on watchND.tv.
I don’t know if I missed anything in the very beginning, as my WiFi was doing its usual Comcast Xfinity high-speed thing of not connecting at all to the internet. Finally, though, I was able to get the stream up, and I caught a fantastic video presentation they played in Purcell that was just full of guys talking about Mike Brey and how wonderful he is.
We got to see legendary Maryland high school basketball coach Morgan Wooten say some great things, saw tons of former players offer their congratulations and reflections on what Brey meant to them (Martin Ingelsby, Ryan Humphrey, Harold Swanagan, Ryan Ayers, Eric Atkins, etc.), saw current guys like BONZIE and Matt Farrell explain what it has meant to play for Coach Brey over these last four years, and finally Digger showed up and passed the torch to Maui Brey as the winningest coach in Notre Dame basketball history.
It was a very touching tribute, and you can honestly see in the way these guys light up and talk about Brey how fantastic he has really been for his players, the University, the South Bend community, and really just anyone he’s ever been in contact with. Just about every one of them mentioned how, yes, he’s a great basketball coach and brilliant basketball mind, but he’s also an incredible person who truly cares about others.
I’ve said this countless times now, but in a world of recruiting scandals and athletes committing heinous crimes and under-the-table payments and slimy coaches winning big, we Notre Dame fans need to consider how lucky we are to have not only one of the best coaches in the country, but also one of the most likable coaches probably in the history of college basketball. It makes it fun to be an Irish basketball fan, it makes it rewarding, and damnit it makes us proud to have someone like that representing and leading our school’s team.
My emotional babbling about how much I love Mike Brey aside, after the video finished playing, Digger and Brey hugged at midcourt and had what looked like a joyous but emotional conversation as Digger handed Mike Brey some special basketball and passed the torch to him officially.
Then, they unveiled a Mike Brey all-time wins leader banner that will perpetually hang in Purcell, and then Jack Swarbrick came out and presented Coach Brey with a framed photo of the banner.
It’s obviously something awesome to have that I’m sure Brey will cherish forever, but when you really think about it, it’s hilarious that they were like “yeah we took a picture of your banner and would like to give it to you, so you always can look at the banner that you can look at basically any day anyway!”
Finally, Mike took pictures with his team, who was visibly excited and pumped up for him, and then he addressed the crowd.
His main points:
- Thank you for braving the storm...we need you guys to show up now more than ever
- Thank you to Digger for making Notre Dame a national program and making it possible for him to do what he just did
- Made the point that this night would not be remembered for his record win, but rather for how much the team lost in a 24-hour period and was able to overcome to get another ACC win
- Mic drop.
After the mic drop, his team went nuts and they celebrated together on the floor before linking arms and singing the alma mater with the fans.
I LOVE MIKE BREY SO MUCH.
- Here’s Mike in the locker room with his squad after the game:
- ND tweeted out this video after the game and this is even better than the one shown on the video board, in my opinion. It’s AMAZING to see all these past players who played for Brey talking about how much they love him. I’m actually tearing up a little bit.
Some random thoughts about this video:
- The star power in this video is off the charts: Jerian and Pat, Murph, Gody, Quinn, Carroll, Hansbrough, Ayers, Scotty Martin, CHRIS THOMAS, COOOOOOOLEY, BONZIE, Cornette, Hillesland, Tory Jackson, EA, Matty Ice, Colin Falls, Hump(hrey), and Swanagan
- Matt Farrell’s hat LOLOLOLOLOL
- Colin Falls looks basically exactly the same...also nice vest!
- Hansbrough’s video: was it filmed before or after his DUI, do you guys think? He looks well!
- Swanagan closing it with getting hype — amazing
- Chris Quinn needs to work a little on his camera presence
- Cornette’s wink
- Tory Jackson’s part was my favorite...one of my favorite Irish players ever and it’s clear how much playing for Brey did for him and meant to him...said Brey was a second father to him and I believe it. Very touching.
- Love the two best captains in Brey’s history, Pat and Jerian, getting to open and close the video. And I love they got to film their part together. Brings me back to that amazing photo and absolutely is gonna make me cry:
- Pflueger is such a great personality to have on this team, man
Quote of the night - @rexpflueger when he learned the 30-point #ACC victory was the most lopsided in #NotreDame history - "Was it really? That...was....pretty...dope. I didn't know that. I just thought we were playing a great collective game."— Tom Noie (@tnoieNDI) January 4, 2018
- I’d never say that losing COLSON and then losing Farrell would be a good thing, but I do think their absences made everyone else feel much more free to do their thing, knowing that if they take a shot and miss, they wouldn’t have been doing so instead of the senior leaders who might have made a shot. The pressure just seems to be off a bit and allows these young guys to go out there and play. I think this was most evident in DJ Harvey, who looked completely different in hunting his own shot out there. Loved it.
- Another good point below noted by Tim O’Malley from Mike Brey’s presser — the young guys couldn’t just give it to BONZIE or Farrell and let them work. They knew they had to do it themselves, and that led to a great team win.
Brey says that sometimes players stand and watch guys like Troy Murphy, Luke Harangody and Bonzie -- tonight, they moved more.— Tim O'Malley (@timomalleyND) January 4, 2018
- Mike Brey said in his presser that Matt Farrell is not expected to play at Syracuse on Saturday, but he is hopeful he can be back to play at Georgia Tech next Wednesday. Going into Syracuse and all that length and athleticism and that zone was already going to be tough — going in without BONZIE to score and draw fouls and without Farrell’s quickness and shooting? Well, Irish fans should probably not expect to go to 3-0 in ACC play. Hopefully this team steps up again and proves me wrong — it would be very surprising and impressive, though.
- BONZIE is still starting on senior day, even if he has to be immediately pulled out since he can’t run, and I am ABSOLUTELY going to cry when it happens
Brey says that no matter what, Bonzie Colson will be in the starting lineup vs. Pittsburgh on Senior Night. Might not be able to play though.— Tim O'Malley (@timomalleyND) January 4, 2018
- Harvey and Pflueger still have a weird habit of passing up open threes but then taking long twos. Harvey’s mid-range game is good enough to get away with this from time to time, but overall they both need to take more efficient shots going forward if this team is to compete with the big boys of the ACC
- With that said, DJ Harvey had his coming out party last night, you guys. He’ll still stumble and fall at points this year, as all freshmen do, but I think he’s gonna be a GREAT player by the end of the year and will be a sophomore star in 2018-2019
- Geben needs to play with that confidence and intensity every game. Absolutely crucial with BONZIE gone. He’s gotta own the paint and be enough of a scoring threat to keep opposing defenses honest. Great double-double from him last night.
- I also love what is happening with Gibbs. He’s become the experienced facilitator and scorer for this team with BONZIE and now Farrell out, and I think we’ll see him as a potential All-ACC selection by the end of the year if he keeps this up
- Mooney was off shooting today, but I still think the minutes that he, Djogo, and even Burns and Torres gave were solid. Those guys just need to keep making the hustle plays and chipping in a little scoring when the opportunity arises, and that will go a long way
- I love this team and this program. Not sure most of the games the rest of this season will be fun to watch like this one, but damnit if I’m not excited to see how Brey and the boys continue to try to defy the odds without their best players. This team needs fan support now more than ever. Let’s all be sure we’re behind them for this one.
Because who knows...the team scraps out some wins, Farrell returns and steps up even more, BONZIE gets healthy for postseason play (potentially)...you never know what could happen, and there’s no way I’m counting out this coach and team ever again.