Ladies and gentlemen, your Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team is officially back to .500 in conference play!
The Irish dug in at home on Sunday evening and absolutely walloped the Miami-Florida Hurricanes 87 to 71, turning a rough start from the field into an absolute scorch-show that saw ND score 48 points in the first half and establish a huge lead that Miami had no ability to erase down the stretch.
*This is incredible to me — obviously it’s mostly a product of the ACC being very down this year, and ND still hasn’t really beaten anyone very good — but if you told me a few weeks ago that the Irish would be in position to earn a first round bye in the ACC Tournament with just a few games to play, I would have laughed uproariously in your stupid, wrong face.
With that all said, let’s run through a quick recap of the events of Sunday evening, wherein the Irish looked like a true Mike Brey offense and completely dominated an ACC opponent for the first time in about two years.
I knew it was going to be an absolute banger of a game from the moment I reached my seat in the Purcell Pavilion press box, as the video board began playing the “I like to party” scene from Hot Rod right as I sat down.
That was, of course, after I walked back and forth down the press box seats 4-5 times trying to find my One Foot Down seat label, which turned out to be slightly misaligned and thus in front of another member of the press, making me skip it while thinking that was clearly his seat.
I finally realized the reason I looked like a complete idiot (in that specific moment — there are countless reasons for this in any number of other settings) and got settled with my laptop and whatnot in my chair. It was at that moment that I gazed down at the court below and witnessed my guy Daney G just absolutely beef a dunk attempt. He was smart to get that out of the way during warmups, unlike the Miami players. More on that to come.
A few moments after Goodwin’s missed dunk, I watched Prentiss Hubb toss the ball off the backboard to himself and throw it down from farther away than I thought he’d be able to dunk from. It was pretty impressive, and I’d like to briefly talk about it only because I’ve seen some very uninformed people on the internet claiming that this ND team doesn’t have ACC-level athletes. Okay buddy, just completely ignore things like that, I guess. More on the cool and athletic things he can do to come, also.
As Eminem’s “Without Me” began to blare from the Pavilion speakers (hadn’t heard that in a while, hell yes), I briefly turned to watch the Hurricanes warm up, and despite having seen him play in-person numerous times, was still struck once again by how small Chris Lykes looks compared to the other guys on the floor.
Lykes is a fantastic point guard and one helluva scorer, but I still can’t get over how small 5’7” looks out there among the giants. It takes a special skill set and toughness to compete with the big boys as someone that size, so my hat’s off for Chris Lykes — dude is GOOD.
The video board began advertising for the Florida State game on March 4th, and honestly I got INCREDIBLY pumped up just thinking about it. For some reason, games against Florida State have been very important games late in the season in recent years — whether it was the 2017/2018 game that gave the Irish a little hope they could make a run after an 84-69 win, or the 2016/2017 game that saw ND win 84-72 over the #14 Seminoles and propelled the Irish to win 7 of their last 9 ACC games en route to making their second ACC Championship game appearance in 3 years. Here’s to hoping this year’s late home tilt with FSU is equally as awesome and positive in terms of transforming the end of the season.
After watching Cormac Ryan fix his hair for about 20 seconds straight while walking around in the lane during warmups — I’m v. excited to watch that feathered AND lethal hair in action next season — local South Bend youths Kendra and Jalen took to mid-court to perform the national anthem. Jalen played the keyboard and both displayed unreal voices in a slower, more soulful version of the song that had everyone in Purcell loudly applauding afterward. Well done to both of them, it was fantastic.
After the starters were introduced on both sides, they introduced Mike Brey and cut to live video of him, which was comprised of him sitting on a stool in front of an empty bench. I laughed out loud and even mumbled “sweet friends” to my guy Mike as he waited for the team to come join him on the bench. Electric stuff.
Finally, the cheerleaders prepped their tip-off t-shirt tosses as Cathy Richardson and the Dropkick Murphys blasted over the loud speakers, and once the ball was tipped and one cheerleader hurled his shirt with impressive might straight into the catwalk above the fans in front of me, the game began.
Miami Starters: Chris Lykes, Dejan Vasiljevic, Isaiah Wong, Keith Stone, Rodney Miller Jr.
Notre Dame Starters: Prentiss Hubb, T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, John Mooney, Juwan Durham
This game began how many Irish games have begun the past couple seasons, with bricks all around!!! The Hurricanes got things moving on their first possession with a solid shot off the iron on a three-point attempt, and then John “Mutton” Mooney answered with one of his own.
Eventually, Keith Stone smoothly said enough was enough, draining a three to mark the first score of the night and loads of Keystone Light references.
Miami's Keith Stone gets us started with the scoring, knocking down a 3 pic.twitter.com/8PXXggJRb0— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 23, 2020
John Mutton quickly responded with a bucket, and that got the Irish loose and limber, enabling Gibbs and Pflueger to both knock down threes and give Notre Dame an early edge.
Rex’s three even gave some of us the confidence to make very correct predictions about the game.
Rex is hittin', this game is over— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 23, 2020
That edge dissolved fairly quickly thanks to the aforementioned Chris Lykes, who somehow managed to get his own rebound and put-back bucket at 5’7”, and then got himself another impressive make by driving directly into Dane Goodwin, muscling him out of the way, and finishing with a tough layup over him.
After a timeout that featured T.J. Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb incorrectly calling a Dreamcast video game system an N64 (Gibbs’ guess) and a Gamecube (Hubb’s) and Gibbs guessing every combination of letters that was close but not correct for the name of a Tamagotchi, Keith Stone managed to hit another three, capping an 8-0 Miami run to give the Hurricanes a 13-10 lead at the 12:55 mark of the first half.
Someone tell Keith Stone that Hamm's is about 1000000000x better— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 24, 2020
At one point, I glanced over to watch the band as they performed in the student section, and I noticed the entire brass section was wearing their horns on their heads??? It was goofy as hell and I loved it — it’s always good to see true innovation in music.
After a couple of Hubb free throws and a bucket from Harlond Beverly of Miami, the Hurricanes led 15-12 heading into a media timeout. During that timeout, the Purcell video board played a video honoring Bonzie Colson, who just so happens to be my favorite ND player of all-time.**
**I doubt you all are curious, but if you are, here is my top-10, limited to players in the Brey era because I’m 28 years old, you guys:
- Pat Connaughton
- Demetrius Jackson
- Steve “White Steve” Vasturia
- Jerian Grant
- Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben
- Jack Cooley
- Tim Abromaitis
- Zach Auguste
- Chris Quinn
Honorable Mention: Tory Jackson, Carleton Scott, Chris Thomas, Matt Farrell
Anyway, the Bonzie video was great, he looks like he’s doing well playing professionally in Turkey (averaging 12 and 5!), and he added a fun little dancey flair to the end of his video message that made everyone smile. I miss that guy so much.
Immediately coming out of that timeout, Daney G drained a three and then Miami traveled, which lined up pretty well with the Leprechaun Legion chanting “L-F-G!” as that hotdog hero hurled his hotdogs heroically.
Despite that amazing moment, Kameron McGusty BLEW by a Notre Dame player, leaving him spinning as McGusty was running LIKE THE WIND toward the hoop for an easy basket. The Hurricanes took a 19-15 lead with less than 10 minutes to play in the half on that shot.
From there, the Irish flipped some sort of magic switch that I’d really like them to flip against better competition, as they went on a 33-10 run to end the half. Hubb got things started with a three, Juwan Durham got himself a bucket, and a Hubb steal and pass to John Mutton led to a flying two-handed slam by Mutton on the other end.
After yet another stop, Gibbs knocked down a wide open three from the top of the key, pushing the Irish to a 25-21 lead at the under-8 timeout. Following the
Pom Squad coming out sans poms during that timeout to dance to T.I.’s “Bring ‘Em Out,” we were treated to the wonder that is T-shirt Toss Time.
Nothing gets a crowd full of middle-aged men out of their seats like T-Shirt Toss Time— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 23, 2020
Returning from the break, Gibbs capped a 10-0 run with a beautiful three-pointer on an off-the-dribble pull-up. Miami would proceed to get a couple buckets to narrow the deficit to three points, and the Leprechaun Legion did its usual thing of misusing the “We Are! N-D!” chant, this time doing it after a 4-0 run by the opponent that slowed the Irish’s momentum and ended a nice ND run.
John Mutton recognized the need for a turn back to Irish momentum, scoring off of an offensive rebound to make it 30-25. After Keith Stone leapt beautifully onto the scorers’ table on one play, Mutton proceeded to bury a three, giving Gibbs the confidence to launch a DEEP three of his own, which somehow banked in. That, in turn, encouraged Nate Laszewski to drain his own long ball from the top of the key, and all of a sudden the Irish were leading 39-25 after only being up three about 2 minutes prior.
ND is 9-for-15 from three right now, including TJ Gibbs hitting literally everything he tries from beyond the arc (4/4 so far)— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 23, 2020
Lasz’s three brought the house down, allowing the Purcell DJ to launch into “Sandstorm” and get the ruckus rollin’.
this sequence led to a Sandstorm timeout. I'd like to give a big ole HELL YEAH to the Purcell DJ, well done https://t.co/HJiiTa8t71— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) February 23, 2020
The LFG Hotdog man did his thing again to even more chants, and the Irish closed out the half with continued strong offense as they finished the period with 48 points and ended the half on a 20-4 run.
It was...what is the word for your favorite basketball team playing really well???...
IT WAS GOOD.
- Notre Dame: TJ Gibbs led the way with 14 points (4-for-4 3P) and 3 assists, and John Mutton nearly had another double-double in just one half, scoring 11 points and snagging 9 rebounds. Dane Goodwin chipped in 8 points, and Prentiss Hubb had 7 points and 7 assists. The Irish shot 46% from the field, 56% from 3 (10-for-18), dished out 13 assists while turning the ball over 0 times, and out-rebounded Miami 25 to 18
- Miami: Keith Stone led the way for the Hurricanes with 8 points and 4 rebounds, and Harlond Beverly chipped in 6 and 3 on his end. The Hurricanes shot 37% from the field, an abysmal 17% from three (2-for-12), and had as many turnovers (3) as assists
The halftime show on Sunday was Troop ND, the jazz and hip-hop dance team for Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross students.
I have to be honest that I was very skeptical about this at first, just because I’d never heard of this dance team at ND. However, the crew came out with plaid shirts tied around their waists, and did some quality dancing that was a refreshing, unique performance for a Notre Dame basketball halftime show.
Was it a Red Panda-level show? Of course not. But I always appreciate a dedicated crew of students doing something they love, so I’m going to give it a solid 5 on the scale of 1 to Red Panda.
After the Troop ND performance, they advertised for home game football tickets on the video board, choosing to feature the below three home games to try to convince people to buy season tickets:
- Clemson (of course, using this one in advertising is a no-brainer)
- Stanford (sure, this is usually a fun and competitive home game)
- Arkansas (LOLOLOL)
The band then played “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, and all I could think about was how much I wished my friend Andy were there with me, as our favorite pastime at The Backer is ruining band members’ coordinated dance to that song by screaming the “DUH DUH DUHHHHH” part of that song at inappropriate times. Sunday was Andy’s birthday, so that was especially fitting and emotional for me as I sat in the press box and wept openly.
Following that song, the Purcell DJ put on “Poison,” which got the crowd up and at ‘em before the second half began.
Final thought: someone in the student section had a large cardboard cut-out head of the brain exploding emoji, and I HAVE to quickly comment that that emoji is a little alarming/unsettling to look at when blown up at that size. Yikes.
In the second stanza, the Irish picked up right where they left off in the first half, displaying some gorgeous ball movement on one early possession that saw clever, breakneck passes go from Hubb to Mutton to Durham for a bucket down low as ND took a 50-33 lead about a minute into the half.
Soon after, Rex Pflueger drew a foul shooting a corner three, making two of his shots and inciting another episode of LFG hotdogs in the student section. Dejan Vasiljevic managed to knock down a three to cut the deficit to 16, but the Hurricanes failed to get too much closer than that as the game moved on.
Goodwin made a nice reverse layup off of an inbounds play to extend the lead back to 18, and after Chris Lykes got himself another bucket to make it 16 again, Daney G scoffed and then scored on another nice take to the hoop, making it 56-38.
During the under-16 media timeout, we were treated to the Flex Cam on the video board, which provided very little good content until the end of it, when we were treated to a band member bicep-curling his instrument slowly for the camera. Otherwise, everyone flexing on the Flex Cam looked like young versions of Rex Pflueger or Dane Goodwin, which was sort of funny but mostly concerning.
Miami got within 14 at one point, but Hubb buried a three to make it 61-44 with 13 minutes to play. From there the two teams traded some baskets, with Beverly and Mutton and Gibbs all chipping in, making it 65-48.
During another timeout, the video board showed the “Basketball Shuffle,” where they hide a basketball or something behind one of three ND monograms and then shuffle them around, making people pick which one it’s behind when they stop moving.
I will never look at this kind of video board game/contest the same way again after a couple weeks ago in Dallas, watching a “race” on the jumbotron at a Dallas Stars game. The usher in our section told me that they have three separate versions all ready to go, and whatever the fan chosen to guess says will win, they make sure they play the race video that shows that number winning. Is this what they do with the Basketball Shuffle too????? #2 won by the way — I knew it would.
The band hit that “Mr. Brightside” moment beautifully after the Basketball Shuffle, and The Killers clearly motivated John Mutton, who slammed home a dunk after a nice pass from Rex Pflueger that made it 67-50, Irish.
Miami got themselves a bucket, but John Mutton knocked down a nice jumper to give ND 69. Then, something even better happened.
The Hurricanes managed to steal the ball from ND, and they had a wide open dunk on the ensuing breakaway. The player, unfortunately for him, did not get his missed dunks out of his system during warmups like Daney G did (CALLBACK TO THE PREGAME SECTION), absolutely BRICKING his one-handed, wide open dunk. The Irish rebounded the ball, pushed it back up the floor in transition to John Mutton, and watched with awe and delight as Mutton two-handed-slammed another dunk down right on top of one unlucky Miami opponent. The crowd, understandably, was excited.
From that point onward, the Irish simply stepped on the Hurricanes’ collective throat.
Pflueger hit a three. Gibbs hit another three. Goodwin got another inbounds play bucket. The Pom Squad brought their poms out for a performance only to cast them asunder mid-dance.
Everything was going right for the Irish.
It got to a point where the referees clearly felt bad for Miami, calling a foul on Juwan Durham for blocking a shot too well. Durham was able to get himself a basket on the other end with a nice post move, and John Mutton got a clean block soon after to avenge Durham’s unjust foul.
Nikola “Khal” Djogo then entered the game, which gave Hubb the killer instinct needed to COMMIT MURDER while being guarded by his former high school teammate, Chris Lykes. Hubb put a nasty crossover on Lykes, who fell and managed a turf toe injury in doing so, leaving Hubb to complete a neat little step-back and drill a three-pointer that made the crowd go nuts, considering the crossover that engendered it.
At the final timeout of the game, fans began streaming for the exits to...I guess...beat that crazy Sunday evening South Bend traffic?
The Hurricanes picked up some garbage buckets in garbage time, and then the Irish closed things down with the 16-point victory, 87-71.
- Notre Dame: TJ Gibbs co-led the way with 19 points (5-for-6 3P) and 5 assists, and John Mutton was the other co-leading scorer there with 19 to go along with his usual 12 rebounds. Prentiss Hubb did his best John Mutton impression by putting up a 15-point, 10-assist double-double, Rex Pflueger had 8 points, 6 boards, and 3 assists, and Nate Laszewski had himself a man’s game with 8 rebounds. The Irish shot 47% from the field, 45% from 3 (14-for-31), dished out 21 assists while turning the ball over just 7 times, and out-rebounded Miami 42 to 35
- Miami: Harlond Beverly, Dejan Vasiljevic, and Isaiah Wong each scored 12 points in this one, with Beverly chipping in 6 boards and 3 assists. Keith Stone had himself 10 and 6, and Chris Lykes scored 8 points while grabbing 4 boards and dishing out 4 assists. The Hurricanes shot 41% from the field, 23% from three (5-for-22), and had just 9 assists on 29 baskets
- Can we briefly talk about T.J. Gibbs and the FANTASTIC senior season he’s having — particularly in ACC play?
.497 FG%— @NDmbb Athletic Comms (@NDmbbSID) February 24, 2020
.902 FT%@Tempppp12 is currently doing something no @accmbb player has done since 1996-97 - averaging 40% FG, 50% 3FG and 90% FT...
Shane Battier, Al Thornton, Tyler Hansbrough all posted 40%, 50%, 80% pic.twitter.com/y5g3nbnW0u
Gibbs is a guy who was absolutely TRASHED by everyone last season as he clearly tried to do more than he was capable of and got himself into a major funk.
Now, in his Irish swan song, Gibbs is absolutely shooting the lights out, has the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the ACC (2.9), and has really been the key driver in a number of big runs in the Irish’s 8 conference wins.
Gibbs is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, and I’d love for him and John Mutton and Rex to get a surprise tourney bid in their final season as Irish players. Here’s to hoping Gibbs can keep this up and push ND miraculously into a postseason situation absolutely NO ONE thought — or even still thinks — that they should be in.
- I tweeted it during the game and I absolutely meant it — Nate Laszewski showing the ability to grab tough rebounds and the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive (and pass to find cutting teammates!) is HUGE.
Mark my words, this guy is going to end up as a VERY good Notre Dame player with two years still to get stronger, continue gaining confidence, and knock down any number of additional buzzer beaters. I am VERY excited about his future based on his recent play
- Prentiss Hubb just had 10 assists and just 2 turnovers in an ACC game, and managed to score 15 points despite not shooting well. At this point, no one is allowed to question his abilities. This will be Hubb’s team to run next year, and I can honestly say that no longer makes me nervous — I’m just excited to see what he can do as an unquestioned “the guy” for a Mike Brey offense
- Juwan Durham’s offensive game has made great strides this year, and I am pretty excited to see how he can continue to improve there, and in his strength and conditioning, to be an even bigger factor on both ends of the floor next year (assuming he comes back)
- Dane Goodwin has disappeared at numerous times this season — especially on the road — but let’s not forget how easily he can go off, or even just score 14 points VERY quietly like he did yesterday.
If Brey and co. can get him going against the Seminoles in early March, the Irish might just have a chance for the massive, resume-building upset
- I’ve always had plenty of complaints about Rex Pflueger playing so much, but at this point I am extremely sad about losing him after this season. Say what you will about scoring inconsistency, but what he brings on defense, on the boards, with his passing, and in his leadership is undeniable — the guy, to use a super cliche phrase, just makes winning plays. He will be missed next year
- Let’s be realistic about ND’s chances of being on the NCAA Tournament bubble really quick. Is it possible? Absolutely. But the Irish really don’t have room for error the rest of the way. They need to win on the road against Boston College on Wednesday and Wake Forest on Saturday, and then of course topple #6 Florida State on March 4th at Purcell (and then win on Senior Night against the always-pesky Virginia Tech Hokies 3 days later)
If they win all four of those, we’re talking about a 21-10, 12-8 Notre Dame team with one great win over FSU, one solid road win over Syracuse, and one decent win over a currently-surging UCLA. That would be enough to be part of the conversation, but the Irish would still likely need to win their second-round ACC Tourney opening game and then depending on the opponent, at least play very competitive in the quarterfinals (if not win that one as well).
Looking at all that, it does seem unlikely that everything falls into place for a team that still needs so much in terms of resume-building wins. But then again, did any of us even think we could be having this conversation with 4 conference games remaining, especially after the 2-6 start in ACC play?
These next few weeks should be very interesting and potentially very fun/nerve-wracking, so I guess my final message is this: Mike Brey has proven to us he can do some amazing things before...perhaps he’s about to add another fantastic chapter to that story.
BELIEVE IN SOMETHING
Go Irish, beat BC