In 112 years, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have seen plenty of exciting and victorious moments on the hardwood. While they’ve yet to win an NCAA Tournament, the Irish have still made the tournament 36 times, made a Final Four appearance, and turned in many memorable individual performances as well. As we wait for the 2018-2019 season to begin, let’s reflect on some of the best moments in the history of Notre Dame hoops.
5. Five Overtime Win Over Louisville in 2013
On Feb. 8, 2013, the Irish pulled out one of the most memorable wins in the history of the Big East. It also happened to be the longest regular season game in the history of the conference. Notre Dame hosted Louisville at Purcell Pavilion for a three hour and forty minute game that would eventually result in a 104-101 Irish win. (Louisville would win the NCAA Championship that year, but subsequently vacated the title as punishment for a sex scandal.)
Louisville led Notre Dame 56-48 with less than a minute left in regulation. Then ND’s Jerian Grant sprang into action, hitting three consecutive threes as part of a 12-4 run. Grant then tied the game on a three-point play. As the game wore on, ND’s front court resources were running low with Jack Cooley and Tom Knight both fouling out. But junior Garrick Sherman stepped up with 17 points over the course of all the OTs to help the team get the win. If you have the kind of time you’d usually use to watch one Lord of The Rings movie, re-watch this game sometime.
(Side note: I was a sophomore at Louisville when this happened and I remember rooting for Notre Dame at a house party where we were watching the game. I did not make many friends that night.)
4. Austin Carr Scores 61 Points Against Ohio in 1970
If you find yourself perusing the Notre Dame basketball record book, you’re going to see Austin Carr’s name a lot. But perhaps his crowning achievement came in the first round of the 1970 NCAA Tournament against the Ohio Bobcats in Dayton.
Carr absolutely caught fire and went 25-for-44 from the field and 11-for-14 from the free throw line. The 61 points scored is a Notre Dame program record and an NCAA Tournament record to this day. Luckily for Irish fans, there’s tape of every basket Carr scored that day. The Irish lost in the second round to the Kentucky Wildcats (Carr put up 52 in that one), but Carr had already put on one of the best individual performances in the history of college basketball and cemented his legacy as perhaps the best player to ever wear a Notre Dame uniform.
The next season, Carr would be named the Naismith Player of the Year as well as AP Player of the Year and would be drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Carr’s pro career turned out pretty well, but that’s the subject of another post.
3. 2015 ACC Tournament Championship
Notre Dame’s only conference tournament title came in Notre Dame’s second year in the ACC. The Irish entered the tournament the #12 team in the nation with a bye into the quarterfinals. In that game against Miami, the Irish were able to hang on for a win despite a bad second half thanks in part to a big day by Steve Vasturia who scored 16 and played great defense. In the semifinal against #2 Duke, Bonzie Colson and Demetrius Jackson combined for 32 points and countered a big day from Jahlil Okafor to lead the Irish to a 74-64 win.
In the tournament final, Jerian Grant led a 26-3 run in the second half and put up 24 points of his own to get ND past #19 North Carolina. Grant earned tournament MVP honors in one of the better weekends a Mike Brey team has turned in at Notre Dame. The 2015 team would go on to just barely miss the Final Four, losing to Kentucky by two in the Elite Eight. Though in that moment of time, as Grant, Pat Connaughton, Bonzie Colson and the rest of the Irish cut down the nets in Greensborough, they were champions.
2. 1927 & 1936 National Championships
You see kids, there was once a time before the NCAA Tournament existed. The first one wasn’t until 1939. Before that, the national champion was selected by the Helms Athletic Foundation: a Los Angeles based group which were pretty much just a group of guys with a lot of money who read about sports a lot. The foundation was started in 1936 and in the early forties, retroactively named George Keogan’s Notre Dame squad the national champs in 1927 and 1936.
The 1927 season saw the Irish go 19-1. Center and South Bend native Johnny Nyikos was an All-America selection that year with 8.6 points per game. In 1936, the Irish were 22-2-1 (the only tie in the history of Notre Dame basketball). Their year included a win over then-powerhouse NYU in Madison Square Garden that drew 19,000 people, the most people to ever watch a basketball game in that venue at the time. That win was enough to convince most sportswriters in New York and beyond that the Irish were the best team in the land that year.
Keogan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He was 333-98 with not one losing season to his name as the coach of the Irish.
1. 1978 Final Four
Some, including head coach Digger Phelps, refer to the 1978 Notre Dame basketball team as the “Noah’s Ark” team because they were two deep at every position. Names like Dave Batton, Duck Williams, and Bill Laimbeer loaded the roster in a year where the Irish played one of the tougher schedules in their history up to that point. Their year included a win over #1 Marquette and games against 12 games against teams that finished in the final UPI poll of coaches.
Despite the hard schedule, Notre Dame rolled through the NCAA Tournament up until the national semifinal where they lost to Duke. In the Midwest regional final against then-powerhouse DePaul (crazy how times have changed, right?), Laimbeer and Kelly Tripucka both turned in double doubles to take out the Blue Demons 84-64. No Irish team has advanced to the Final Four since, though they’re definitely due for a return trip.
With ten players selected in the NBA draft from that team, the family atmosphere of the group that Phelps and the players still rave about all these years later, and all the fantastic victories all over the country, there’s good reason why the 1978 team is still one of the most memorable teams in program history.