Ladies and gentlemen, in case you’re just tuning in, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team has ZERO quit. Faced with an improbable 21-point deficit in the second half against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Wednesday night, Notre Dame came all the way back to win and move on to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. It was the second game in as many nights that saw the Fighting Irish shoot terribly from the field in the first half but make up for it with superb free-throw shooting down the stretch.
Their prize for grinding out these wins? A date with the Duke Blue Devils who crushed Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier in the season. But also, the Fighting Irish could get rewarded with an NCAA Tournament bid for their efforts in Brooklyn thus far. If the talking heads in the sports media are right then Notre Dame should sneak in, and even a hard-fought loss against Duke could solidify that.
- This will be the 31st meeting between Duke and Notre Dame, with Duke leading the all-time series 23-7.
- This is the fourth straight year that the Fighting Irish and the Blue Devils will meet in the ACC Tournament. In 2015 and 2016 Notre Dame ousted Duke in the semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively. In 2017 Duke beat Notre Dame in the championship game.
- Competing in its fifth ACC Tournament since joining the conference in the 2013-14 season, Notre Dame has an 8-3 record all-time in the competition including the 2015 title and an appearance in the championship game in 2017.
- Notre Dame is 9-2 all-time in the Barclays Center, including two NCAA Tournament wins in 2016 and the Legends Classic title in the same year.
- In Bonzie Colson’s nine career games in the Barclays Center he has scored in double figures in all but one game, recorded three double-doubles and a high of 29 points in the 2017 ACC championship game against Duke.
- In Matt Farrell’s nine career games in the Barclays Center he has scored in double figures seven times with a high of 22 points in Wednesday’s matchup against Virginia Tech.
- With its 20th win of the season on Wednesday, Notre Dame has reached that plateau in 11 of its last 12 seasons. Mike Brey has reached yet another milestone, passing Digger Phelps atop the record book for the most 20-win seasons in school history with 14.
WHEN: Thursday, March 8, 7 p.m. ET
WHERE: The Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2 national broadcast with Mike Couzens, LaPhonso Ellis and Allison Williams.
ACC Network broadcast with Wes Durham and Dan Bonner. Available nation wide via ACC Network affiliates.
Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland. Available locally at WSBT AM 960/FM 96.1 and worldwide on WatchND.tv.
Duke Blue Devils (25-6, 13-5 ACC)
Duke is quite possibly playing its best basketball of the season after winning six of its last seven games and ending with a comeback win over North Carolina. The only loss during that stretch was a one-point, court-storming thriller at none other than Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils enter Thursday’s game with five days of rest while the Fighting Irish will take the court for a third straight night.
The Blue Devils are led by a “big three” of young and old talent, with senior guard Grayson Allen, freshman forward Marvin Bagley III and freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. receiving all-ACC honors this season. Bagley was named the ACC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year after averaging 20.8 points and 11.2 rebounds on the season.
Allen had plenty of highs and lows as usual, but finished second on the team in points and assists with 15.5 points per game and 4.5 assists per game. Carter averaged 14.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, and if not for Bagley’s presence he might have put up Bagley’s numbers. The rest of the starting five for Duke also averaged in double figures, with freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. averaging 14.3 points and freshman guard Trevon Duval averaging 10.4 points and leading the team with 5.3 assists per game.
In their earlier meeting this season, Notre Dame hung with Duke for as long as they could with Colson, Farrell and D.J. Harvey all sitting out with injuries. The Blue Devils ultimately went on an 18-0 run in the second half that sealed the win on the back of Gary Trent Jr., who had 22 points and 10 rebounds while draining six three-pointers. Bagley had one of his worst shooting games of the season, going just 4-14 for the floor and scoring 12 points.
Duke was one of the best teams in the nation all year long, never falling lower than 12 in the rankings. Behind Bagley and Carter, Duke held the top spot in the country for most total rebounds and is currently second only to North Carolina. The Blue Devils also average 85.1 points per game which ranks sixth in the nation, and their 17.5 assists per game ranks eighth in the nation. But their youth has shown in the fact that they have more turnovers than their opponents this season.
The thing that really stands out about this Blue Devils team is that any one of their starters can take over a game on any given night, as evidence by Trent’s game against the Fighting Irish earlier this year. Bagley gets most of the praise because he will be a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft, but Carter can dominate on the glass, Trent can catch fire, Duval can pick a defense apart and Allen just does the typical annoying Duke things.
Blue Devil to Watch
Marvin Bagley III, F, Freshman
Bagley wasn’t himself against the Fighting Irish back in January, and I don’t expect that to happen again. He’s 6-foot-11 (7-foot-3 if you count his hair), 234 pounds and is best described as “bouncy.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player have a quicker second and third jump than he does, which is why he’s such a gifted rebounder. In the second half against North Carolina in Duke’s last game of the season, Bagley took over with several momentum-shifting dunks that keyed the Blue Devils’ comeback. Even after being almost nonexistent in the first half he finished the game with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Notre Dame is going to have a hard time guarding him in the paint.
Bonzie Colson, F, Senior
I hope he got some sleep last night, because Bonzie absolutely has to show out during this game for the Fighting Irish to have a chance. Against Virginia Tech he was quiet until he hit the bank-shot-heard-round-the-world, but he finished with just 12 points and seven rebounds. Bonzie’s knack for getting unlikely rebounds will have to come into play against Duke because the Fighting Irish are very clearly over matched in the paint. Bonzie has been a Duke killer in the past, so channel whatever you did during ACC tournaments past big-fella. We need all you’ve got.
Duke 78 - Notre Dame 70
I really want to be irrational here and just pick the Fighting Irish for the hell of it like I have so many time this season... But I just can’t do it this time. Duke is too talented and playing too well at this point in the season. This will definitely be a much different game than we saw during the regular season, and we know Brey’s boys are going to leave everything on the floor. In the end I think they will come up just short. But I’m a humble guy, I don’t mind being proven wrong.