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ND Basketball Detailed Recap: John Mutton Fought Valiantly, but the Orange Overwhelmed at Saturday’s Marcky DiGiacomo Concert

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A basketball game happened in between Marcky DiGiacomo electric guitar performances, and despite the disappointing finish, it was overall a pretty solid showing by the Irish

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, it may not have ended like we wanted it to, but it was SO GOOD to be back in Purcell for some ACC basketball yesterday afternoon as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team fell to the Syracuse Orange 72 to 62.

The students were mostly not back yet from Christmas break, but Purcell did get a little raucous anyway throughout, as the Irish, despite the loss, had a number of positive moments to hang our collective Irish leprechaun hat on, showing a lot of resilience as a team. Furthermore, we were all treated to multiple performances by a New York teen playing electric guitar, so it mostly just felt like a rock concert where a spontaneous basketball game broke out. That was pretty amazing.

So, because the Notre Dame basketball program continues to be hoodwinked into allowing me to receive press credentials for games, let’s dive into my detailed recap of the events both on and off the court during yesterday’s game at Notre Dame.

Pregame

This was my first game attended of the season, thanks to my spring 2018 move to Chicago, and so I arrived at Notre Dame a little earlier than normal and had a chance to walk around campus a bit before heading into Purcell. It was a frigid day and the campus was its usual gorgeous self, but also, due to the ND/Michigan outdoor hockey game in Notre Dame Stadium, campus was abuzz with a few people already tailgating roughly 5 hours before the game began. That pumped me up.

Upon arrival, I found my seat, which was not even in the press box this time due to the number of media in attendance, and instead was at a media table above Section 13 (shout out Section 13, whoop whoop!). Not quite as good of a view of the entire court, but it was a cool spot to be in, in the middle of the fans. I dug it.

Roughly 15 minutes before tip-off, I took stock of the attendance situation and it was looking SPARSE in some sections. Without the students filling their section and with the hockey game later, I assumed we just wouldn’t see the normal crowd a program like Syracuse might typically draw. Eventually, though, it filled in pretty well with last-minute arrivals, but it looked not great for a while there.

Also, side question — why was the outdoor hockey game scheduled for a day before students returned to class? What in the world was the thinking there? C’mon, you guys.

Anyway, as the teams warmed up, I watched T.J. Gibbs grooving to the music, doing an abnormal amount of dancing as he did a normal amount of shooting. He looked to be in the zone and feelin’ it. This assessment would prove to be very true.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

During warmups, songs played over the loudspeaker included Archie Eversole’s “We Ready” and Linkin Park’s “Numb,” so that was pretty magnificent. The Purcell DJ is already firing on all cylinders in 2019, folks.

The two squads then lined up for the national anthem, which was performed by a plucky teenager at mid-court, decked out in ND gear, whom the jumbotron identified as Marcky DiGiacomo. I didn’t know anything about him at this point in the game, but I was already thrilled with this, as having a random kid play the national anthem on an electric guitar is such a weird but awesome move...it did a fantastic job setting the scene for the game to come.

They played this year’s intro video on the big screen before introducing the ND squad and it began with what sounded like the sirens from The Purge (LOVE that...I’m a big fan of all The Purge movies/TV series), and then went into Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA,” I believe. It was, per usual, pretty neat.

Then, as is customary, they blasted some Cathy Richardson to get us all hyped as shit, and while doing so showed a brief video of Brey and then some players superimposed over the Golden Dome in kind of an artsy, translucent way...it really just reminded me of that cowboys yelling meme, which made me giggle:

Finally, as they revved up the crowd leading up to the tip-off, they encouraged everyone to “Rise Together” with a graphic on the video board, then showed shots of the crowd who was supposedly rising up — I’d say roughly 50% of the fans they showed were either not standing up at all, or were standing there completely silent and deadpan. Amazing.

Starters

Notre Dame

  • T.J. Gibbs: G, Junior, Zahm Hall
  • Prentiss Hubb: G, Freshman, Zahm Hall
  • DJ Harvey: G, Sophomore, Morrissey Manor
  • John “John Mutton” Mooney: F, Junior, Dillon Hall
  • Juwan Durham: F, Junior, Keenan Hall

*Pat Rick Note: North Quad, which is the best quad, is well-represented represented with this starting lineup...I originally wanted to say “well-represented,” but it’s Keenan and Zahm, you guys. #Stanford4Lyfe

Syracuse

Tyus Battle: G, Junior, 6’6”

Oshae Brissett: F, Sophomore, 6’8”

Elijah Hughes: F, Junior, 6’6”

Frank Howard: G, Senior, 6’5”

Marek Dolezaj: F, Sophomore, 6’10”

1st Half

The game got off to a great start for the Irish, as ND won the tip and saw their first possession end on an alley-oop tossed to Juwan Durham from the top of the key by T.J. Gibbs.

However, Syracuse answered with an Elijah Hughes three, which you will notice throughout the course of this recap is a very common occurrence. The dude can shoot the ball and has a penchant for making shots right after ND makes shots.

Soon after Hughes’ three, Prentiss Hubb launched his first three point attempt of the day, hitting very little of the basket as he continued to struggle with his shot. He entered the game 4-for-34 from deep in the last 8 games, and ended up going 0-for-4 yesterday, making him 4-for-38 in his last 9 contests. I’m sure it’s typically not advisable to re-tool a jump shot in the middle of a season, but Hubb can probably really use some changes to his technique from Ryan Ayers or someone else on staff who knows how to shoot, ASAP.

A DJ Harvey three got the Irish back up 5-3, and then a deep Gibbs three made it 8-3. Oshae Brissett immediately answered that with a three of his own, though, and him doing that is ALSO something that would become a pattern throughout this matchup.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the game, they showed a closeup of John Mutton on the jumbotron and he was already sweatin’ up a storm...the dude was WORKING HARD all game long. Anyway, probably inspired by John Mutton’s sweatiness, Harvey knocked down a short jumper to give the Irish a 10-6 lead at the 16-minute mark, but then Brissett quickly replied with one of his own (of course).

It was pretty clear pretty early on that T.J. Gibbs was feeling it and was going to be launching some threes, as he knocked down another one here to give ND a 13-8 lead at the first media timeout. During said media timeout, the Purcell DJ played the “Everybody clap your hands!” part of the “Cha Cha Slide” and, without fail, the entire arena audience clapped along in unison. I’m genuinely convinced you could use that part of that song to brainwash an entire cult.

After the timeout, DJ Harvey drained a 3 from the corner, extending the Notre Dame lead to 16-8, with the crowd getting into it and the momentum firmly in the Irish’s corner.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A little later, fans were treated to a fun sequence on a fast break with Prentiss Hubb somehow managing to dribble the ball basically all over the floor without ever actually having total control of it, as multiple defenders trying to take the ball made it almost like an obstacle course for Hubb to get through while keeping the ball in his possession. He did hang onto it, though, and on that same possession John Mutton managed a tip slam on a missed Irish shot, making it 18-10 ND at the 13:10 mark and really earning a loud roar from the crowd.

The next time down, Juwan Durham made a gorgeous touch pass over the top to John Mutton, who promptly collected it and threw it down for another dunk, triggering me to write in my notes, “Syracuse looks soft AF inside.” John Mutton was EATING THEM UP.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Right after I typed that, the Orange subbed in their 7’2” reserve center Paschal Chukwu, and although I was hoping to see he and Durham try to create a “megacenter” situation where one has the other on his shoulders, Durham was subbed out by Brey and we were left with just one super tall shot blocker on the floor. Disappointing, to say the least.

Freshman guard Jalen Carey entered the game and began to make his presence known, as he swiped the ball from the Irish, leading to a Hughes deep ball on the other end to make it 20-15. Then, just after I said Syracuse was “soft AF inside,” DJ Harvey got a great pass from Gibbs as he cut to the hoop, only to be absolutely stonewalled on his shot by Marek Dolezaj. Maybe they aren’t as soft inside as I thought.

During the next timeout, the Purcell DJ dropped “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, and crowd participation was adequate at best. The momentum and noise had clearly died down a bit as Syracuse mounted a comeback. Thankfully, it wasn’t an official, formal Dance Cam. That kind of showing would have been devastatingly embarrassing for the Irish crowd.

After a Carey jumper made it 20-17 with 9:30 remaining in the half, the Irish looked to respond but struggled to generate offense without Harvey and John Mutton on the floor, as both were resting at the time. However, Notre Dame finally got something going with Hubb pushing the ball in transition, dishing it to Dane Goodwin, who then kicked it out to Gibbs for another three, halting the 7-0 run Syracuse had been on. Hughes, though, responded in kind with a basket of his own.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Buddy Boeheim subbed into the game at this point, which was when I realized that his kid actually plays (???). I was just under the assumption his son would be a walk-on guy who never played. Interesting.

Oshae Brissett knocked down another three to make it a 12-3 Syracuse run and cut the Irish lead to just one. We then saw a DJ Harvey 1-of-2 showing at the charity stripe followed by a lovely T-Shirt Toss session during a timeout where I counted ~5 children in the section in front of me jumping up and screaming for t-shirts while ~4 adults did the same. That ratio being so close to 1:1 is very concerning to me.

With the Irish up 2, Gibbs made another beautiful pass from the top of the key toward the hoop, where Durham was cutting behind the defense. He slammed it home again, showing just how awesome it is to have a super tall, long, athletic guy on the team who’s able to be that easy alley-oop target.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The next possession, Hubb and Durham almost connected on YET ANOTHER oop, but Durham was fouled to stop him from finishing. He hit both free throws to make it 28-22.

Nik Djogo then entered the contest for the first time, and the crowd gave him a strangely loud round of applause (at least it seemed it was for him). If it was for him, that was an odd moment — I have nothing against Djogo, but it seems strange he’d be that much of a fan favorite considering his lack of serious playing time or production. Oh well, I’ll keep an eye out to see if it happens again.

Syracuse went on a little run from there, with Hughes tossing in a shot-clock buzzer-beating three and then a couple Tyus Battle buckets giving the Orange a 31-29 lead. During the under-4 timeout, they did a Dance Cam with “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, and the dancing was honestly uninspired. Basically just a bunch of kids doing the floss, which at this point is very played out. Do better, Irish fans.

Nate Laszewski managed a bucket after the break to tie things up, and then Gibbs made yet another deep ball to give the Irish the lead again. It would be short-lived, though, with Frank Howard knocking down a three after the Orange got an offensive rebound and a second chance.

Then, Brissett hit a three, and Syracuse was suddenly up 37-34. After a nice job by John Mutton to draw a foul, he hit one free throw out of two, setting the Irish up for their last possession, where Gibbs penetrated and then kicked out to Laszewski, who drained a three just before the buzzer. ND rolled into the half leading 38-37.

Halftime Stats

Notre Dame was led by T.J. Gibbs in the first half, who had 12 points on 4-of-8 three point shooting and 4 assists. DJ Harvey had 9 points, Juwan Durham had 6 points and 4 rebounds, and John “John Mutton” Mooney had 5 points and 4 rebounds. The Irish shot 45% in the half overall and 41% from deep (7-of-17), but did leave a few points on the board in making only 5 of their 8 free throw attempts.

Syracuse, meanwhile, saw their trio of Elijah Hughes (11 points on 3-of-6 three point shooting and 3 rebounds), Oshae Brissett (11 points on 3-of-4 three point shooting and 3 rebounds), and Tyus Battle (8 points and 3 rebounds) do most of the work in the first half. The Orange shot 44% from the field, 50% from 3 (7-of-14), and didn’t shoot any free throws at all in the half. Syracuse led the rebounding battle 21 to 15 at that point, but was losing the turnover battle 6 to 4.

Halftime

Yesterday’s halftime first brought us a Fan of the Game recognition for a man named Nick Stober. That fact alone isn’t super newsworthy, but the closed captioning on the video board called him “Nick Sober” and I thought that was hilarious, so I wanted to make sure you knew about it too.

Then, as Nick Sober left the court, I watched them bring out some musical equipment, and to my delight I realized that they were bringing back my guy Marcky DiGiacomo and his electric guitar for the halftime act.

If you haven’t read this before, I always grade the halftime shows because I’ve seen Red Panda perform at ND games and am adamant that she is the standard by which all other halftime acts should be measured. The fact they brought this kid and his electric guitar back out on the court to perform by just playing his guitar along to some song was nothing short of magnificent and made me consider giving the act a 10 on the 1-to-Red Panda scale.

Also, side note: I LOVE how he spells Marcky. It’s so goofy and the ‘c’ is so unnecessary, I respect it so much.

Also, I did a quick Google search to uncover some info on Marcky, and it turns out he’s a kid from New York who got pulled on stage of a Buddy Holly concert.

Also, update: I know what band originally performed the song he played, thanks to my guy Brian Pracht:

Anyway, I was, am, and always will be ALL ABOUT Marcky DiGiacomo strumming that electric guitar as much as possible at Notre Dame basketball games. I mean, I can even dream of the innovative possibilities his act could create.

I give his act a 9 on the scale of 1 to Red Panda, because the kid can seriously play and it’s an absolutely absurd choice by Notre Dame to just have a teen play his guitar at mid-court as entertainment for the game against Syracuse.

2nd Half

After the crowd recovered from the unbelievable high of listening to the musical stylings of Marcky/Pearl Jam, the 2nd half got going with the Irish looking like they forgot they needed to play basketball for another 20 minutes.

Dolezaj got things moving for Syracuse, knocking down a jumper to retake the lead for the Orange. Then, Hughes drained another deep ball and did a little Lance Stephenson-esque guitar strum, which I will henceforth refer to as a Marcky DiGiacomo guitar strum.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Brissett aggressively took the ball to the hoop a couple possessions later, slamming it home to give Syracuse a 44-38 lead and making it a 7-0 run to begin the half.

Mike Brey called a timeout to try to settle his team, and during said timeout, Purcell Pavilion did a Flex Cam. And, I need to say, unless it’s a tiny baby being held up and having someone flex their arms for them (that’s adorable), I hate the Flex Cam with every fiber of my being. They just pan the crowd showing fans who are just standing their awkwardly and silently and motionless as they hold their arms in a flexing pose. So incredibly stupid. Also, they played “No Flex Zone” during it, which seems wrong considering it was LITERALLY THE FLEX CAM. This was not a no-flex zone, you guys.

Following the Flex Cam, though, the Purcell DJ redeemed it all by playing that song that just basically lists vegetables (i.e. green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.):

Love that shit.

After the timeout, Syracuse came out in a full court press and the Irish struggled to inbound the ball at first, attempting to toss a full-court pass to John Mutton that instead ended up being called out of bounds off of ND after the loose ball may or may not have deflected off John Mutton.

During the next timeout, the Purcell video board put up one of those games where they hide a ball behind/under one of three things and then have those three things move around and you have to guess which one has the ball under/behind it when they’re done moving. The answer was #3, and the crowd went wild when they announced that.

Also, side note: this is a chance for me to give my full-on endorsement of a game you can play on old Roku devices that’s called Cups and Ball Free. It’s LIT, and my friends and I once legitimately spent 20 minutes playing it after we failed to find JackBox games on Roku.

Also also, during this timeout they showed multiple Michigan Wolverines fans on the video board and the arena booed them every single time. That’s what I’m talking about.

When action resumed, the Irish were still struggling a bit to get anything going, until finally Gibbs drained another deep three, and then the next time down John Mutton grabbed himself an AWESOME rebound, had an aggressive take to the hoop, and drew a foul. And folks, let me tell you — I have never heard a crowd get so loud for a run-of-the-mill shooting foul down low. John Mutton drained both free throws, and Syracuse’s lead was reduced to 46-43. And the crowd LOVED IT. They were loud as hell in that moment. Really wish I could have had a Noise Meter on the video board to measure it...

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After drawing another foul with great position and an excellent effort on the boards, John Mutton began instigating the crowd, encouraging them to get loud and go nuts. Then, he proceeded to draw another foul on another great take to the hoop, but managed to make just one of two free throws. 46-44 Syracuse with 14:20 to play. Jim Boeheim called a timeout to regroup.

And regroup they did, for after the break, Brissett hit a jumper, and then after Gibbs drained yet another deep ball on a nice kick out from John Mutton with the crowd getting back into it, Tyus Battle nailed a three with Dane Goodwin draped all over him, re-extending the Syracuse lead to 4.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After Syracuse scored again and then John Mutton was called for a travel on a play where he bobbled the ball but didn’t seem to move his feet at all, the Irish once again clawed themselves back into contention. ND forced a shot clock violation, then John Mutton made a tough bucket in traffic. DJ Harvey then picked a guy’s pocket on the other end, enabling Gibbs to penetrate and dish to John Mutton for a monster dunk that made it 53-51 Syracuse with 10 minutes still to play.

The Irish proceeded to get themselves ANOTHER defensive stop after that, but a Hubb three point attempt on the offensive end was an airball, deflating the crowd’s enthusiasm a bit. Meanwhile, Elijah Hughes decided he wanted to become one of those opposing players who gets hated because he plays so well against the Irish, as he dropped in another three pointer and then strummed the Marcky DiGiacomo guitar in celebration once again as he ran back down court.

From there, the Orange built up another decent lead, as they saw Gibbs airball a three and the Irish turn it over a couple times while still managing to score on the other end. The Irish were suddenly, after nearly tying the game up, looking at a 58-51 deficit.

John Mutton hit a jump shot to settle things a bit, but Elijah Hughes easily answered with a drive that was barely contested by the Irish, resulting in an easy layup. Laszewski knocked down a three to give the Irish some more momentum, though, and then after DJ Harvey drew a foul and hit a couple free throws, the Irish were ONCE AGAIN within 2 points, this time down 60-58 with just over 6 minutes to play.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

On the next possession for Syracuse, Paschal Chukwu was prevented from scoring by Juwan Durham, and then Laszewski was able to snare the board and draw Chukwu’s 5th foul, sending the mammoth center to the bench without so much as a whiff of he and Durham combining to form a “megacenter.” How sad.

Laszewski, at the line for a 1-and-1 with a chance to tie things up, missed his first shot. Of course, the way this game went, you could have easily guessed what would then happen on Syracuse’s next possession, right?

Elijah Hughes hit another three pointer.

NCAA Basketball: St. Bonaventure at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

From that point forward, it was all Syracuse, with the Irish taking some wild three pointers as they saw the deficit increase more and more, with Syracuse showing veteran, talented scoring ability and poise down the stretch. The Orange would finish the Irish off 72-62 in the end, giving ND fans a disappointing finish to what was really a very competitive game throughout.

Also, I’d just like to say that my detailed notes for that final few minutes are pretty empty because I was busy dealing with a troll on Twitter who was...angry that our Notre Dame sports site was...covering Notre Dame sports?

What a shame, I lost some serious sleep over this.

Final Stats

Notre Dame was led by T.J. Gibbs, who had 18 points on 6-of-13 three point shooting and 5 assists. John “John Mutton” Mooney had 14 points and 14 rebounds, adding yet another double-double to his ACC-leading total. DJ Harvey chipped in 11 of his own, and Nate Laszewski finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds in a game where he fought pretty tough despite a bruised knee suffered against Virginia Tech. The Irish shot 35% from the field overall and 33% from deep (11-of-33), and left a few points on the board in making only 11 of their 17 free throw attempts.

Syracuse, meanwhile, saw their trio of Elijah Hughes (22 points on 6-of-13 three point shooting and 10 rebounds), Oshae Brissett (19 points on 3-of-7 three point shooting and 11 rebounds), and Tyus Battle (17 points and 5 rebounds) carry the team to victory. The Orange shot 41% from the field and from deep (12-of-29), and made 4 of the 5 free throws they attempted. Syracuse dominated the rebounding battle 46 to 36 and also ended up just barely winning the turnover battle, forcing 11 turnovers by ND and only committing 10 themselves.

Stray Thoughts

  • Jim Boeheim is in his 43rd season coaching the Syracuse Orange, LOLOL the dude is old (his teams still compete, though, I’ll give him that, despite the fact I hate him)
NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
  • We’re going to see plenty more games like this as the season goes on, and we knew this was going to happen this season, so please spare me your panicky “Is Mike Brey the right coach?” or “This team is just bad and disappointing” takes...the team is young as hell and going to make plenty of mistakes, but it’s also clear to anyone watching that there is serious talent on this squad and they keep getting better...

- Gibbs is starting to shoot the lights out while also making some nice drive-and-dish plays. I’m confident he will be a scoring leader we can trust heading into his senior year

- John Mutton has become an animal (excuse the pun) down low, seemingly much less interested in just being a stretch four and instead becoming a certified badass inside

- Harvey is looking much more comfortable out there than he did early in the season, which makes sense considering it takes time to return to full comfort/confidence after leg injuries like his. His ability to create his own shot on mid-range jumpers is unbelievably useful, and he’s starting to really mix it up on the boards. Remember, also, that he missed a TON of his freshman season, so he’s still adjusting to the college game a little bit right now. He’s only going to get better as he gets more time

- Juwan Durham is WAY ahead of schedule on both ends of the floor, with his only real weaknesses that he’s skinny and that he tends to foul a little more than we’d like...but he’s already one of the best rim protectors in America, he has the ability to score from the post, and damnit if it doesn’t bring tears to my eyes to see his size, athleticism, and connection with his guards when he slams home another alley-oop over the Syracuse 2-3 zone

- Dane Goodwin looks like Steve Vasturia in terms of doing everything pretty well, and like Vasturia he’s gonna have some ups and downs as a freshman. It’ll pay off when he’s a sophomore and onward for sure, though

- Prentiss Hubb needs some help with his shooting, whether it’s a physical re-tooling of his shooting technique or just some help getting his confidence back in his shot, but the kid is relentless on defense and is pretty damn good at penetrating and dishing to open teammates, and has the drive to push the ball up the floor in transition with some solid speed. Again, I think the Hubb we will start to see next season is going to be LIGHT YEARS ahead of this Hubb who is infuriating us with missed three pointers. Give him some time and patience

- Nate Laszewski honestly just needs to get stronger, because otherwise he’s doing everything we expected — he’s taking threes and usually making a decent amount, he’s using his height and length to mix it up down low, etc. I’ve actually seen a little more toughness down low from him in these first couple ACC games than I was expecting to see. He’s gonna be a monster before he’s done at ND

- Nik Djogo is what he is...he’s a much more skilled Austin Torres, as he’ll be an energy guy who can contribute a tad but is mostly needed as depth

  • Rex Pflueger is coming back next year, which is unequivocally a good thing, even if you hate the way he plays offense. He’s a fantastic leader and kid and his defense and intensity and all the other little things he does will be super important to have on next year’s squad. Also, his return means Mike Brey is returning EVERYONE next year. As in, the entire team. What??? I’m very excited to see where all these young guys are at the end of this year, because if some of them continue to develop, we could be talking about a 2019-2020 team that can compete for an ACC title and maybe make a deep-ish run in March
  • I hope Red Panda was re-added to the halftime show slate this year after being left off it last season...I need her in my life so bad
  • ND plays BC next Saturday at home, looking to get their first ACC win over a 9-4 team who hasn’t really beaten anyone of note, save for maybe Minnesota. I think the Irish have this one and get some solid momentum going in conference play