The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team had their chance to earn a spot at the NCAA Tournament table this evening, and for much of the game, they looked as if they would end up getting demolished by the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Instead, the Irish mounted a HUGE comeback in the final 12 minutes of the game, outscoring the Hokies 42-16 down the stretch to win a wild one in Brooklyn.
The Irish were led by Matt Farrell, who had 22 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting 4/11 from deep. Rex Pflueger added 14 and 9, TJ Gibbs had 13 points and 7 assists, and BONZIE COLSON, showing a lot of fatigue and frustration, had 12 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 4/14 from the field.
The Irish shot 38% from the field and 35% from deep for the game, and made 21-of-25 free throws, which was huge down the stretch.
The Hokies were led by Justin Robinson’s 15 points and 7 assists, and Justin Bibbs added 15 points of his own. The Hokies shot 42% from the field and 27% from deep, but were out-rebounded 38-32. They did force 11 turnovers to ND’s just 13 assists, but the Irish still found a way to win this one.
The Irish started well in the early going of the first half, jumping out to a 15-11 lead on three point shooting by TJ Gibbs and Matt Farrell.
However, the Hokies responded with a 23-6 run as the Irish stopped hitting shots completely (including some ill-advised shot attempts by COLSON, who didn’t get his first bucket until about 11 minutes into the first half and finished the half shooting 1-of-10 from the field). Virginia Tech led 34-21 at the half, and at that point the Irish’s chances of winning the game — let alone making the NCAA Tournament — were slim.
It was more of the same in the second half, as the Hokies continued to dominate the Irish in every facet of the game, extending their lead to 19 at the under-16 timeout and pulling ahead by 21 points at one point.
The Irish made it interesting, though, finding life behind the three point shooting of Matt Farrell and TJ Gibbs, cutting the deficit to 8 with about 8 minutes to play. After an Austin Torres drawn charge and a Chris Clarke technical for shoving Farrell after the play, ND was able to make it 54-50, and then 59-55.
For the next few minutes, the Irish failed to get any closer while Virginia Tech failed to extend the lead. The Irish had a shot to cut it to 1 or 2 on a fast break, but the refs stopped play for a Justin Robinson injury under the hoop on the other side of the court, which seemed questionable.
ND finally broke the seal, though, getting a layup from Rex Pflueger and a banked-in, shot-clock-buzzer-beating three from BONZIE to take a 60-59 lead. After getting a stop, BONZIE got fouled on the other end shooting a fallaway jumper, and managed to hit both free throws to push the lead to 3. After the Hokies failed to get a bucket on the next couple possessions, COLSON missed a couple free throws with 44 seconds to go and the Irish up 64-59.
However, on the next possession, Robinson traveled at the top of the key, giving the ball back to ND with 36.7 seconds remaining. Gibbs hit a couple free throws to extend the lead to 7, but the Hokies immediately responded with a three by Nickeil Alexander-Walker with 28 seconds.
After a pair of Pflueger free throws, Robinson came down and drained a deep three of hsi own from the top of the key, making it 68-65 with 18.4 seconds to go. The Hokies, like the Irish in the second half, REFUSED to lie down and die.
After a pair of Farrell free throws made it 70-65, the Hokies finally missed a three, and ND wrapped things up by grabbing the board after it got tipped around a few times in the scrum below the hoop. The Irish then closed it out, winning 71-65.
Some how, some way, Notre Dame advances to the Quarterfinals against Duke tomorrow, while the Hokies will now head home and wait for their seeding on Sunday, as they are already a virtual lock to make it into the NCAA Tourney with the season they’ve had.