Well folks, it finally happened. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team FINALLY snapped their losing streak, finishing it at 7 games after defeating the Boston College Eagles 96-85 on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
This is going to be a sliiiiightly abbreviated version of the detailed recap, since the game happened two days ago anyway, but it was the first game in a while that was, from start to finish, really a joy to watch as a Notre Dame basketball fan.
Thus, let’s revel in that feeling a bit.
I got to Purcell about 30 minutes early, and it was clear from the beginning that this 7-game losing streak, combined with the bad opponent, led to a lot of fans deciding to stay home. The upper sections had entire swaths of seats that were vacant, but the crowd did more or less fill up the lower bowl by the time the game got going. Still, it’s amazing how awful a losing streak can be and how it can compound and just snowball into a terrible time for the team.
The students turned out in the lower section, luckily, including my guys ND Whiteboard Crew and Gold Jacket Guy. They brought their A-game, per usual, because they’re Goddamn heroes.
Other pregame observations:
- BC’s Ky Bowman still had super duper red hair...Goddamn gingers
- Martinas Geben, codename “Bird Whisperer,” is 4th on the team in assists with 28 this year. I know he’s a great passer for a big man, but would not have guessed he would be 4th on the team in assists. What a guy.
- Josh McDaniels just backed out of the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job (at the time I took this note), so I spent the rest of pregame retweeting funny, self-deprecating tweets about that because I am a Colts fan and that’s all we have right now, is self-deprecation
- As the opposing team gets introduced, the student section, as most of you know, yells “SUCKS!” after each starter’s name is called. On Tuesday night, there was one lone guy in the normal fan section to the right of media row that yelled “sucks!” for Steffon Mitchell’s intro. He is my idol.
Boston College: Ky Bowman, Jerome Robinson, Nik Popovic, Jordan Chatman, Steffon Mitchell
Notre Dame: Matt “Butt” Farrell (please see below), TJ Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Austin Torres, Marty “Bird Whisperer” Geben
Butt Farrell https://t.co/pynbwn0NIM— Not a Fan of Football (@Psully226) February 7, 2018
The Irish had their best start to a game in a LONG TIME, with Bird Whisperer winning the tip and eventually getting a nice little one-handed jump hook thing to bank into the basket, giving ND a 2-0 lead.
The Eagles quickly responded with a 3 from Chatman, but Torres showed some impressive passing ability on a dish to Pflueger for a layup. Boston College is NOT good at defense.
A couple minutes into the game, neither team had missed a shot, and BC led 7-6. A Bird Whisperer airball ruined that moments after I typed that note, but it was still a nice start in terms of shooting for both teams (and not in terms of defense for either team).
During a brief pause in the action, I took a good look at Chatman and noticed the dude has A LOT of forehead real estate going on there. This is a relevant and useful piece of information for all of you. You’re welcome.
After Bird Whisperer found Farrell for a 3 to give ND a 9-7 lead, the Irish got a stop and then Farrell returned the favor, pulling up at the top of the key as if he were going to shoot another 3, only to send a crisp pass over the top to Bird Whisperer for a wide open dunk. After a BC bucket, the Irish led 11-9 at the first media timeout.
This first media timeout meant the first T-Shirt Toss Time for Purcell, and it was extremely low-energy, especially coming from the adults who normally toss all inhibitions to the wind and jump up and down, hollering for a free t-shirt. Very odd to see.
John “John Mutton” Mooney came in after the timeout, which was a sight for sore-eyed Irish fans who watched him struggle to play just 8 minutes last Saturday against NC State.
A TJ Gibbs deep ball at the 15-minute mark gave ND a 14-11 lead, and then very soon after, Gibbs hit a shot clock buzzer-beating 3 to once again give ND a 3-point lead, 17-14. After a stop from the Irish D, Gibbs came down and buried another one from deep. The dude was FEELING IT in the first half. 20-14 Notre Dame, 12:10 to play in the half.
Oh, what’s that? You love TJ Gibbs and want to see more 3-pointers from him? Your wish is his command, as John Mutton found Gibbs for YET ANOTHER three, giving ND a 23-14 lead and forcing BC to take a timeout to talk about how they will never be able to stop him.
My note I wrote down heading into the timeout: “just let him shoot the rest of the shots.”
During the timeout, we got some solid Dance Cam action on the Purcell video board, with the most notable action coming from Gold Jacket Guy, who was grooving along with the rest of the student section, as is the custom.
As I get back to describing the game, let me remind you that TJ Gibbs is ON FIRE and is on a personal 12-3 run.
A couple free throws from the Bird Whisperer make it 25-14 ND and give the Irish a 14-3 run overall. After a couple measly BC points, Gibbs got fouled shooting a three, and the shot rimmed out nearly earning himself a 4-point play. No matter — he hit all three shots as the crowd was decently loud, considering attendance, with ND up 28-16 with under 11 minutes to go in the half.
Steffon Mitchell got a really nice putback slam in transition at one point, and let me just say that that guy is gonna be pretty good. He’s a true freshman and looked very confident, physical (he fouled out!!!), and athletic out there. He’ll be a pain in the ass for the next few years.
BC and John Mutton then traded some threes, Farrell hit a left-handed, and-one circus shot, Gibbs hit a few runners, Robinson drained a bunch of shots, and by the 4:10 mark, Notre Dame led 37-31.
There was one moment in the final minutes of the first half when Mitchell endeared himself to me forever by yelling “and-one!” on a shot that he missed and that he didn’t get a foul call on...it was pure poetry.
The final minutes gave us an Austin Torres dunk, a Ky Bowman 3, a Matty Farrell floater, a more Robinson buckets, a Matty Farrell three ball, and a Matty Farrell drawn charge, giving ND the ball with 4.9 seconds remaining in the half.
It was then that Gibbs decided he was still on fire, as he took the inbounds, raced down the right side of the court, dribbled back to his left, and banked in a running three pointer as time expired. Dude’s developing a reputation for hitting halftime buzzer beaters.
47-38 ND at the half, and TJ Gibbs LOVES IT.
#TFW you drop 22 in one half.@Tempppp12 pic.twitter.com/TkpokhMXIW— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) February 7, 2018
Notre Dame: TJ Gibbs, of course, led the way with 22 points on 7-of-8 shooting overall and 5-of-6 shooting from 3. Matt Farrell added 10 points and 3 assists, and the Bird Whisperer had 6 and 5. The Irish shot 50% from field and from deep, and had an astounding 12 assists to just 2 turnovers, looking much more like the Brey teams of old who really knew how to share the ball and take care of it while doing so.
Boston College: Jerome Robinson had an equally impressive first half to Gibbs’ performance, scoring 18 points (his second half would be even better). Steffon Mitchell had 6 points and 5 rebounds in the half as well. The Eagles shot 48% from the field and 43% from deep, and even out-rebounded ND 17-16, so it must have been disappointing for them to be losing by 9 despite all that. It has a lot to do with their defense, obviously, but also they had 5 turnovers and just 5 assists in the first half.
Nick Newell was named ND fan of the game. A fun fact about this student is that he wears his dad’s old ND jersey to every game. Neat. He gets a commemorative autographed team basketball for his fandom wooohoooooo!!!
The main event was a performance by the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College Irish dance team. This meant that a BUNCH of young women from those two schools pranced out onto the floor, doing lots of Irish jigging.
Some of them were wearing green skirts and some were wearing all black, and so it looked like a very bleak affair, despite the upbeat music and all of their smiles and energetic dancing.
Later in the performance, I realized that the green skirts are the varsity squad or something like that, as they stayed out on the court to do a dance holding hands that looked much more intricate than what everyone was doing earlier, and the ones in all black gleefully skipped off to let the green skirt team do their thing.
With little to no understanding of how Irish dance performances typically look, I think the performance needed a little more razzle-dazzle in the finale, in order to really wow the audience.
Overall, it was a nice performance and the dancers really did nothing wrong, but on a scale of 1 to Red Panda, Irish dancing just isn’t going to score well unless it’s some absolutely crazy shit. I give it a 3.5.
To start the second half, the Irish came out a little bit sloppy, but BC did not capitalize. Farrell finally took control and drained a three pointer, giving ND a 51-38 lead with just under 18 minutes to go.
After yet another Jerome Robinson basket, the Bird Whisperer received a pass in transition and looked like he was on his way to throwing down another patented thunder-dunk, but he was fouled and we in the crowd were all robbed of that beautiful act.
John Mutton followed up Bird Whisperer’s free throws with a deep ball, and Boston College was forced to take a timeout to discuss how embarrassing their 56-40 deficit was at the 16:25 mark.
During the break, the ND band played “Wagon Wheel,” and I felt that was a nice change of pace.
The Irish extended their 2nd half run to 11-2 after a couple Gibbs free throws, and then after Bowman finally scored for BC, Bird Whisperer responded with an offensive board and putback to make it 60-42.
It was at this point that I noticed the ND Whiteboard Crew had chosen its target on the BC bench, a freshman player by the name of Sam Holtze. I saw “Sam Holtze eats at the Chum Bucket” written on their board from across the court, and absolutely applaud their Spongebob acumen. They didn’t stop there, though.
First half highlights courtesy of THE #5 @HoltzeSam pic.twitter.com/RYSxgD6fdM— ND Whiteboard (@ND_Whiteboard) February 7, 2018
@ND_Whiteboard For the record pic.twitter.com/nBJIUPVsyk— Wiett Sills (@WiettND) February 7, 2018
BC came out firing after the timeout, scoring 6 quick points to bring themselves within 12. John Mutton replied in kind, though, tossing in another 3 with that weird but effective hitch in his shot. At the under-12 timeout, the Irish led 63-50.
From there, BC slowly chipped away while ND still continued to make some shots to keep them at arm’s length. Bowman banked in a 3, Bird Whisperer got a bucket on a nice post-up move. Pflueger hit a 3, but Robinson immediately responded by easily knocking down another shot. With their lead narrowed to 7, Notre Dame called a timeout with 9 minutes left.
This timeout was not super effective, as BC proceeded to get a Bowman-to-Robinson alley-oop that gave Robinson 34 points on the evening and made the score 68-63 at the under-8 timeout.
At this point, ND fans were certainly wondering if this ND team might fold and lose its 8th straight game, considering the Eagles had all the momentum with their 23-10 run.
Pflueger hit a couple charity shots to briefly stifle that fear, but then Robinson did Robinson things and drained another 3, bringing Notre Dame’s lead to just 4. A couple Chatman free throws soon after would narrow it to a 70-68 lead for the Irish with less than 7 minutes to go.
The Bird Whisperer, ever the calming presence, made a nice left-handed jump hook on the next possession, and then soon after Matty F knocked down a 3 to extend the Notre Dame lead to 7 as the crowd began to regain its voice.
Robinson hit ANOTHER three, though, making it 75-71. That gave him 40 points (he’d finish with 46) and made him 7-for-11 from three point land.
After a Farrell miss on the ensuing possession, The Bird Whisperer once again slung the team over his broad Lithuanian shoulders, grabbing a big offensive rebound and drawing a foul, knocking down both free throws and adding another strong double-double performance to his resume. 77-71, ND.
As BC went to the line on the other end after being fouled, a guy in the crowd behind me did his best Herman Boone/the championship crowd from Dodgeball impression, yelling “LET ‘EM PLAY!!! LET ‘EM PLAY!!!” I almost responded with Boone’s “CHEATAH! CHEATAH!” but decided I probably shouldn’t, due to professionalism and whatever.
The Eagles hit both shots to make it 77-73 with 4:30 left in the game, but another Farrell 3, a Bowman travel, and a tough Gibbs runner over Mitchell made it 82-73 at the next timeout.
The band cranked up the crowd with Cascada’s “Every Time We Touch” during that timeout, and it was glorious. During the dancing, I witnessed Gold Jacket Guy’s gold hat fall off his head, but luckily he has exceptional reflexes and caught it, safely putting it back on his head. CRISIS AVERTED.
After a couple Eagles free throws, the Bird Whisperer was given an offensive foul for backing an opponent down too good. This made me immediately think of in Hardball when Miles had to stop wearing headphones, because “he’s pitching too good.”
I could only find a weird, bootleg YouTube video that isn’t full screen and has chipmunk voices to show you what I’m talking about, but I’m going to include it anyway because Hardball is incredible.
Anyway, that turnover led to Robinson scoring again to make it 82-77 ND with just under 3 minutes to play. Luckily for the Irish, this was exactly the time when Rex Pflueger decided to regain his confidence and his shooting, and he knocked down one of those patented Rex fadeaway, pull-up jumpers to extend the lead to 7.
Popovic was called for an offensive foul on the other end (his 5th), and the next possession saw John Mutton get a dunk on a beautiful find from Matt Farrell tossing the ball cross-court.
Gibbs drew a foul on the other end going after a loose ball, leading to Mitchell also fouling out of the game. The student section did their normal “Left! Right! Left! Right!” as he walked to the bench, but Mitchell toyed with them and faked them out, causing them to yell “Sit Down!” too early with a brilliant fake-sitting move. As I said before, this kid is talented.
After Gibbs hit his free throws, ND got the ball back and watched as newly-confident and offensively-skilled Rex pump-faked in the corner, took a side step dribble, and drained a three to put the final nail in the coffin. This made it 91-77 with about a minute remaining.
After a few more buckets and a rousing “We Are! N-D!” chant from the student section, BC fouled ND with 14 seconds left despite being down 12. Chumps.
ND finished this one off after some garbage time BC threes, winning 96-85 and improving to 14-10 and 4-7 in ACC play.
Notre Dame: TJ Gibbs had a fairly quiet second half, but still finished with 28 points on 8-of-11 shooting (5-of-7 from deep) to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Matt Farrell finished with 19 points of his own on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range, and contributed 7 assists as he looked much more like his old self. The Bird Whisperer, meanwhile, picked up another double-double with 16 points and 11 boards, and John Mutton exploded for 16 and 5 on 4-of-7 shooting from deep.
The Irish shot 53% from the field, 55% from deep, and made 18-of-23 free throws. They lost the rebounding battle 30-32, but had an incredible 21 assists and just 5 turnovers, truly looking like a Mike Brey offense once again
Boston College: Jerome Robinson was unbelievable, scoring an absurd 46 points on 15-of-23 shooting (7-of-12 from deep). Ky Bowman added 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Jordan Chatman had 7 and 5 and the true freshman Steffon Mitchell had 6 points and 11 boards.
The Eagles shot 49% from the field and 40% from deep, and had 14 assists while committing 8 turnovers.
- TJ Gibbs is averaging 21.8 points per game in the last 5 contests, and has been shooting 42% from 3-point range in that stretch. This kid is JUST A SOPHOMORE, you guys. He’s developing a much better ability to square up and hit little runners in the lane instead of attacking shot-blocking big men in search of drawing fouls, and he just seems to be playing more under control than earlier in the year. Get excited for this guy to lead a VERY talented couple of teams in his final two years. I think TJ Gibbs is going to take this program to new heights before he’s done.
- Boston College has a player named Johncarlos Reyes, and I love the name Johncarlos so much. Just seems like a typo, not an actual first name. Big fan of this guy.
- John “Mutton” Mooney is playing some great basketball right now. He’s shooting with confidence and hitting A LOT of three pointers — not counting the NC State game, in which he only played 8 minutes and didn’t attempt a 3, John Mutton is shooting 16-of-28 from deep from the North Carolina game onward. If he can continue to knock down shots at that kind of clip, Farrell continues to get back into form, Geben plays double-double basketball, and Gibbs keeps up his playmaking ways...this team could be SCARY with DJ Harvey and BONZIE returning at the end of the month. I’m not saying there’s enough time/games for this team to do enough to make the tourney (short of winning the ACC Tournament), but I’m also STILL not gonna quite count them out yet. Let’s just wait and see and enjoy any positives that we can down the stretch
- Speaking of enjoying positives, I don’t care that it was just BC and that ND gave up 85 points to BC. Getting that slump-busting win was absolutely HUGE and to do it by looking super crisp and efficient on offense was a very nice surprise. Here’s to hoping this can become a pattern and that it wasn’t just one night of hot shooting. Taking down Florida State on Saturday would be an immense step in the right direction.
- Everything has already been said about him, but hats off to Marty “The Bird Whisperer” Geben again for continuing to be that steady, tough presence down low. I still think I’ll wake up and realize his amazing play this year has just been a dream. He’s been that reliable and good.
- Welcome back, real Matty Farrell. He was taking and making good three point shots, making lots of dazzling passes, and playing within himself while still making plays. PLEASE KEEP THAT UP.
- Also, shout out to Rex for playing a much better offensive game than he has been all season. That kind of performance is all ND needs from him - knock down some jumpers and otherwise help move the ball around