The Notre Dame Fighting Irish met the Oklahoma Sooners, in their first ever meeting tonight, at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic. Both teams took the court with matching 6-1 records, amped and ready to perform for the crowd at the iconic “Garden.”
It was a roller coaster of a first half. The Sooners came out strong, starting the half with five unanswered points, before the Irish got their first points on the board. It didn’t take the Irish long to turn on the gas, though, and at the halfway point in the first half, the Irish were within three points of the Sooners. With 6:52 remaining in the half the Irish tied the game at 28-28 and then went on to take the lead for a brief moment before the Sooners stepped back on the gas and took the lead.
John Mooney lead the way for the Irish in the first half, with 11 points and 11 rebounds, to secure his fifth double-double of the season. He was 4-8 from two-point range, and 1-1 from the three point line. The next two highest Irish scorers were Juwan Durham and Dane Goodwin, with six and five points respectively. The difference on the Sooner side of the ball was that they had three shooters who had eight or more points in the first half, and that OU was shooting 7-11 from three-point range. Brady Manek had 11 points, Christian James had 9 points, and Aaron Calixte had 8 points for the Sooners in the first half.
At the beginning of the second half Coach Brey commented that his young guys seemed to be experiencing some nerves, and that they missed too many clean three-point shots, which would need to change in the second half.
Even though Notre Dame has a very young team this season, they certainly can put up the points, they just need to stay focused. The Irish came out big in the second half with a 9-0 run, before the Sooners finally made a basket.
Mooney, early in the second half, had already broken his career high for rebounding, and at the Garden no less. And then with 13:49 to go in the second half, Notre Dame took the lead on a dunk by Durham. To which Oklahoma immediately responded to with a three-point shot by Manek. Exchanging points back and forth, the Sooners and the Irish kept swapping the lead. With 10:16 left in the second half, the Sooners began controlling the tempo of the game once more, scoring five three-point shots in a row.
The Irish never backed down in the second half, and even though the Sooner three-point game was strong, with 3:14 remaining in the second half, the Irish were only down by three points. And then with 1:49 left in the game, still down by three points, Goodwin drew the foul and went to the line. Goodwin missed the first free throw, and made the second, to pull the Irish to withing two. On the following possession the Sooners marched right down the court and James shot another three to pull ahead of the Irish by five points. And with 1:17 remaining, the Irish went to the line once more, and Harvey made both free throw shots to pull within two points.
Nothing like entering the last 60 seconds trailing by three, but that’s exactly where the Fighting Irish were positioned. In the final minute, the Irish got the rebound, drove down the court, and as Rex Pflueger attempted the shot, he drew the foul and went to the line. With 33.1 seconds left, Pflueger missed both shots from the free throw line. The Irish immediately fouled the Sooners, who went to the line and made both shots to go up by five points. Notre Dame raced down the court and Gibbs took a big three-point shot but came short. The Sooners rebounded, and were instantly fouled by the Irish. The Sooners missed, and once more the Irish rushed down the court to make one more attempt at a three-point shot, but missed, ending the game.
If you look at the overall stats, the two teams played very competitively. Oklahoma’s field goal percentage was at 47.1%, with the Irish at 41.9%. And even though the Irish shot 60% of their two-point field goals, to Oklahoma’s 40%; the telling stat of the game was Oklahoma’s three-point percentage. OU made 53% of their three-point shots, and Notre Dame only made 26% of their three-point shots. The Irish kept the game close, but in the end they weren’t able to close the gap at the end of the game.