Y’ALL, I cannot TELL you how magnificent it felt to be back at Purcell Pavilion on Wednesday to take in all the action of a Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball game.
Obviously the football program is the straw that stirs the proverbial drink of Irish fandom, but most of you probably know by now that Mike Brey’s hoops program is really my absolute favorite team to follow and root for, and so it makes me incomparably happy to once again sit in that arena for a big game and watch everything unfold in a tight two-hour window of excitement.
And BOY, was there some excitement last night — well, at least if you’re an ND fan and not a Michigan State fan.
But before I get to the game action, let’s start the over-sharing of my typical detailed hoops recaps by doing what I do best...riffing on absolutely inane pregame topics for multiple paragraphs!!!
As I mentioned above, I can’t stress enough how excited I was to be able to make it to this game. When I used to live in St. Joseph, MI, I was a quick 45-minute drive away with no traffic to speak of, meaning I could make essentially any home game I wanted to make, no matter the day or time. That changed when I moved to Chicago nearly 5 (!!!) years ago, as the added distance and me getting rid of my car (because I wasn’t going to be using it to get around the city) made it much more difficult to make it over to ND. Instead of making something like 10 games a year, at this point I’m lucky to get to 4 or 5 if they align with weekend days that I have available.
But this was a special game, and so I planned ahead to make it work despite its ridiculous 9:15pm ET tip-off on a Wednesday night. I took a half day of PTO at work, rented a car for the evening from the only car rental place in Chicago, besides the airports, that has after-hours returns*, and took off from the city at ~3:30pm CT in order to beat traffic and just have myself a relaxing evening in South Bend.
*Pat Rick Note: what the hell is up with rental car places in Chicago? Their hours are horrible (they usually close by 6pm on weeknights, which actually isn’t a problem as much as their weekend hours of 8am-1pm are — what in the world?) and none of them allow for after-hours drop-off, meaning you either have to return your car within their dumb hours or they get to charge you for an extra day of the rental. The first rental car place to figure out after-hours returns anywhere close to my apartment is going to receive my undying loyalty, which is sad but I stand by it.
After a lovely solo dinner at Chipotle — where I was told their broken soda machine could still give me water and I ended up almost flooding the restaurant because the water refused to turn off once I’d filled my cup — I drove my tiny little blue rental car over to the Joyce Center parking lot and sat in my warm car playing on my phone until it was a more socially acceptable time to actually head into the game.
Upon getting into the game, I went to the press box and proceeded to walk back and forth down the row of seats in the press box roughly 4 times, looking for my name at each seat and unable to find it. I have to think Tom Noie, who was sitting there prepping for the game, probably wondered who this crazy and annoying simpleton was aimlessly meandering up and down the walkway behind him.
Finally, after asking someone if they knew if there was any other seating for media, I found the seating chart posted on the wall at the bottom of the press box stairs that showed very clearly that I was sitting in media overflow seating in another section. Once I walked the entirety of the concourse in the wrong direction because I’m bad at geography, I reached my seat thanks to the unneeded personal attention and direction of a super nice usher by the name of David. And it was then that David gave me the ole “ND hospitality” treatment and talked my ear off about plenty of things.*
*Pat Rick Note: let me be clear, because I know I’m often sarcastic — David was delightful and super nice and helpful and personable. It was just way more social interaction than I was expecting with basically anyone on the evening, so it caught me off-guard a bit that I wasn’t sitting at my laptop in silence for an hour prior to the start of the game.
David ABSOLUTELY thought I was a Michigan State writer — probably because the media badges this year have the opponent’s logo on them — and immediately started the conversation by welcoming me to Notre Dame and talking about how there are lots of MSU fans in the area. From there, he began talking about all the different fanbases he’s interacted with in his many years as an usher and he gave me a little hot goss on the worst fans he’s interacted with: the Clemson Tigers fans this year!
He said they were rude, didn’t care to learn anything about Notre Dame, and were only there to see their football team get the W and then go home. So that was fun to hear, that they basically went home miserable and didn’t even enjoy the rest of the experience of the game day at ND!
David also gave me some more inside scoop, telling me that his full-time job is at a local retail store and Notre Dame WR Deion Colzie came in before the USC trip to do some shopping and get some clothes to wear for that. Colzie told him the Clemson players were very similar to the Clemson fans David experienced. Also, knowing now what Colzie looked like last Saturday, I think the moral of this story is that we need to #LetDeionShop before every game.
Get this kid some NIL-funded gift cards so he can go on a shopping spree and then dominate the opponent on Saturday each week.
Finally, David had to go help other fans and I was left alone with my own thoughts (oh no...please come back, David!). I watched the teams warming up and noted that Marcus Hammond, as had been reported, was not warming up and was in sweats along with Tony Sanders Jr. Major bummer, as I think having Hammond will take this team to a better spot and also just give everyone a little more rest with 7 in the rotation instead of 6 — hopefully he’s actually able to return to action soon.
This was the point where I started reading the pregame info sheet that Notre Dame provided all media members, including information like both teams’ rosters, their coaching staffs, stats, etc. My eye was immediately drawn to the MSU staff’s section, where only Tom Izzo had an alma mater listed.
Does the Spartans’ coaching staff really have no one with a college degree besides Tommy ‘zo? Or did someone just forget to complete this section as they put this sheet together? I did some quick Googling, and it seems like it’s the latter, not the former. My quick research dug up the following:
- Doug Wojcik — played at the Naval Academy alongside David Robinson and graduated in 1987 with a degree in physical science
- Mark Montgomery — played at Michigan State for 4 years and earned his degree in food industry management in 1992
- Thomas Kelley — he was born in 1888 and played college football at the University of Chicago as a tackle for the Maroons under head coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, and then served as the head football coach at Muhlenberg College (1911–1913), the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy—now the Missouri University of Science and Technology (1914), the University of Alabama (1915–1917), the University of Idaho (1920–1921), and the University of Missouri (1922), compiling a career coaching record of 56–24–3 (.693). He was also the head basketball coach at Muhlenberg from 1912 to 1914 and Alabama for the 1916–17 season, tallying a career college basketball record of 18–23 (.439). He also served as the athletic director at Idaho from 1920 to 1922.
- Oh wait, sorry...wrong Thomas Kelley
- Thomas Kelley — played at Michigan State from 1994-1999 for both Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo, graduating with a degree in communications in 1999
- Jon Borovich — played for Central Michigan and graduated in 2001 with a degree in sports studies
My competitive intelligence research then moved on to scan the Michigan State roster, where one name immediately jumped out to me — “Jason Whitens.” I chuckled to myself as I thought, “there’s great potential for this to be a perfect name for this guy.” Sure enough, I was correct.
Although, I’m honestly not sure he can whiten any more than he has already, amiright?!?!?
*the sound of all of you booing me off the stage*
Other great names on the roster included Mady Sissoko and Pierre Brooks — I think way more people should name their children Pierre, what a fun name and a great way to honor Kenan Thompson’s greatest work.
As I moved down the roster more, I glanced up to check out the warmup action on the court, and audibly gasped as I saw maybe the smallest person I had ever seen out there in a uniform amongst the giants for MSU.
Look at this hobbit amongst ents!!!
My first thought was that a small child had snuck onto the court, or that maybe the Spartans had a student manager program for junior high students. I then realized that, no, this guy is acting like he’s an honest-to-God player on the 20th-ranked basketball team in America, and so I quickly revisited the roster to figure out who it was. I am ELATED to report that not only is this kid Steven Izzo — Tom’s son — but that he’s listed as 5’8” (no way in hell) and his bio on the MSU athletics site is downright stupendous.
Some highlights here:
- His middle name is Mateen, and there’s no way that’s not in honor of Mateen Cleaves, the All-American point guard who led Izzo to his only national title in 2000. He lists Mateen as his sports hero, which I suppose makes sense
- He averaged FIVE (5) (!!!!) minutes per game as a high school senior and somehow was allowed to walk on to a top-20 basketball program. I realize coaches’ kids get to walk on to their dads’ teams all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such egregious nepotism...at least usually these kids were solid players for their high school and wouldn’t need to stack three of themselves on each others’ shoulders in a trench coat in order to pass as an adult
- “has a great sense for the game” is a phrase that literally means nothing and I cannot believe someone thought “yes, this is a complimentary thing to say about a player” and published it. Please show me a player who doesn’t have a great sense for the game, and you will be showing me a player who doesn’t play the sport
- “A vocal presence on the bench” — sounds like a chip off the ole block
- His favorite pro team is the Baltimore Ravens and I’m trying to figure out how that happened with a kid who grew up in East Lansing and whose father is from Iron Mountain, Michigan. The Detroit Lions are horrible, I know...but still!
- His nickname is “Steve-O” and I gotta think there will be a cease-and-desist coming his way from the Jackass guys soon on that one
- “His first trophy was for writing a poem about the World’s Greatest Dad” — WHY WAS THIS INCLUDED IN THE BIO???
- Also, the MSU site has a “Historical” tab for each player and for some reason I really enjoy seeing the photos back-to-back-to-back looking like an evolution of a pokemon:
Final couple thoughts here on Steven Izzo, the smallest human I think I’ve ever seen:
- There’s another walk-on with a famous dad on this Spartans squad — Nick Sanders, the son of Detroit Lions Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders. Sanders isn’t exactly huge himself at 5’9”, but you gotta think it’s probably odd to him that he’s on the same level — walk-on — as this kid who didn’t even get PT in high school while he’s got NFL Hall of Fame genetics and, according to his bio, averaged 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists per game as a high school senior while also running track and playing baseball.
- Knowing now how small Izzo’s kid is, I want nothing more than for him to get on 6’11” freshman Carson Cooper’s shoulders during garbage time of a game this year so as to reenact the bit from Kicking & Screaming when Byung Sun and Ambrose form a “mega-person.” Here’s an artist’s (me on Powerpoint) rendition of how that might look:
Revisiting the scoop I got from David the Usher right when I sat down, it became clear he was correct when the MSU team came back out of the locker room for final warmups/intros/the national anthem — the cheers for the Spartans were loud and seemed to come from all around. Definitely not the “just family of the players in one section” crowd you might see from some opponents (although with a big-time program like MSU it’s not too surprising there were plenty of them there since it’s not toooo far away).
It was at this time, feeling a bit distracted, that I picked up the little concessions voucher that all media members get for each game, and realized they’re good for up to $15 and can be used for multiple trips, as there’s a tracker on the back to keep track of how much of the voucher has been spent. They also say they’re good until 5/31/2023, which means I am absolutely going to save these from each game and then come to my last game of the year and just SPLURGE on all the hotdogs and pretzels with cheese and popcorn and soda I can fit down my gullet. Can’t wait for that — it will be like the saturated fat and sodium version of our Remember the Six Long Island Night.
As I was noticing the monogram at center court for the first time in-person and wishing to myself that they had never gotten rid of the shamrock for that, my good friend and MSU grad Josh texted me about the game and filled me in that the Spartans would be without two guys in their regular rotation, including senior forward Malik Hall, who’s 3rd on the team in scoring this year (the other guy out for the game being sophomore guard Jaden Akins). Stinks for them, and hopefully it will end up helping the Irish a bit in this one!*
*spoiler alert: it did.
It was then at this point in the pregame festivities when we got our first taste of the theme that ND basketball was running with for the evening — Flight Night.
The Irish band began playing “Great Balls of Fire,” referencing Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick — this wouldn’t be the first reference to those movies or to “flight” in general, and I gotta say I was digging it. More to come on that later, though.
After the national anthem was played and there was a slight lull, the MSU fans made their presence felt WAY more than they did earlier when they cheered for their team as they took the court. A raucous “Go Green! Go White!” chant encircled the Pavilion and for a brief moment actually made it feel like the crowd was 50/50 or even that it was a Sparty advantage in numbers. That was an “oh shit” moment there in the beginning for sure.
It didn’t help that basically up through tip-off, there appeared to still be numerous empty seats all around the arena, including the student section having not yet completely filled in. That was surprising to see, but I think it was mostly just stragglers — the student section looked full after a few minutes of game play, and the crowd — although still with some empty seats throughout — was pretty full and engaged once the game was moving.
After a “Let’s Go Irish!” chant was used to stifle the MSU chants a bit, we were treated to this year’s pregame video and light show. I will always have a soft spot for the videos from the teams in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but this one was pretty solid and involved the players doing the tiniest bit of “acting” as what looked like hot lava was crackling through campus leading to the explosion of highlights and floor/seat-shaking bass used to make fans FEEL the dunks and three-pointers and primal screams being shown on the video board. It got me goin’, not gonna lie.
They did the Irish intros — when did they stop including each player’s dorm, by the way?? — and then they played that sweet, sweet Cathy Richardson to take us to tip-off, just 5+ hours after I left Enterprise in my rental car.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- J.J. Starling, 6’4”, G, freshman
- Trey Wertz, 6’5”, G, grad student
- Cormac Ryan, 6’5”, G, grad student
- Dane Goodwin, 6’6”, G, grad student
- Nate Laszewski, 6’10”, F, grad student*
*Pat Rick note: LOL at this lineup on paper, looking like Starling is a kid tagging along to play with a bunch of guys getting their PhDs
Michigan State Spartans
- Pierre Brooks, 6’6”, G, sophomore
- Tyson Walker, 6’1”, G, senior
- A.J. Hoggard, 6’4”, G, junior
- Joey Hauser, 6’9”, F, grad student
- Mady Sissoko, 6’9”, C, junior
1st Half Details
The first couple minutes of this game were, to put it mildly, a surprising snooze-fest. The Irish defense — which has looked pretty poor in most games against lesser competition this season, surprisingly started off really well, not allowing MSU baskets on their first couple possessions. Unfortunately, that high-powered ND offense also refused to hit any shots during that time, and thus it took nearly 2 minutes for someone to score, with the Spartans’ Hoggard hitting a jumper that Nate Laszewski — who will be referred to as “Zewski” from here on out in this summary — quickly answered with a layup of his own.
Then, the Irish offense started to get aggressive. J.J. Starling began hunting his shot pretty actively, failing to hit some looks from three but also managing some points at the rim and from the charity stripe. Add in a couple turnovers forced in the first few minutes of the game, MSU subbing “Jason Whitens” into the game, and Zewski attacking the hoop once again, and the Irish were up 7-2 after about 5 minutes of play.
It was at this point that Cormac “More Like Scoremac Flyin’ ” Ryan kicked off his great offensive day, burying a three to make it 10-2 ND. MSU responded with a basket, but Trey Wertz immediately knocked down a long-range shot of his own, setting the tone for what was about to happen to Michigan State.
Sure enough, over the next two minutes, Dane “Daney G” Goodwin and Scoremac both drained another three each, and ND suddenly held a commanding 11-point lead less than 25% of the way into the ball game.
During the next media timeout, sticking with that Top Gun theme, they had a bunch of the players saying what their call sign would be if they were a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, I’m getting pretty hard of hearing at my old age of 31, and although they have captions on the video board, they’re woefully behind and thus hard to follow, so I couldn’t make out what some of the players said. But from what I could gather, here are the self-assigned call signs:
- Zewski = “Polish Hammer”
- Wertz = “T-Dub”
- J.R. Konieczny = “Squirrel”
- Robby Carmody = “Bob”
- Marcus Hammond = “Flash” (I couldn’t hear this one really well so that may be completely wrong)
- Matt Zona = “Big Zone”
Pat Rick Note: missed opportunity to be “Danger Zona”
- Cormac = *unintelligible*
During this timeout, I also got another inside-scoop text from my friend Josh, who told me that Sparty guard Tre Holloman is nicknamed “Jiggy.” Not only is that an excellent nickname, but I have a good friend (Josh’s wife) who goes by the nickname “McJiggy,” and thus I now want nothing more than for Tre to get an NIL deal with McDonald’s so my friend McJiggy can see another McJiggy out there in the world, makin’ money and thriving. That’s representation right there, folks.
Okay so anyway, back to the game — ND leapt out to that 19-8 lead not only because of some hot shooting, but also thanks to the Spartans starting 1-for-8 from the floor — which might say plenty just about MSU being shorthanded/having a bad night/not being great shooters, but also says to me that this ND team can actually play a little defense when they get up for the opponent. Sounds like someone else I know!
*looks directly at the football team, holds awkward and intense eye contact for a split-second longer than could be considered socially acceptable*
Following Scoremac’s three-ball, Zewski managed to draw a charge on A.J. Hoggard, and the crowd started to get pretty loud. They were FEELIN’ IT with the team doing nice things on both ends of the court.
Scoremac proceeded to make a floater in the lane, but then Hoggard kept up his reputation as the only MSU player doing things, quieting the crowd down with a three-pointer and then an EMPHATIC block on a Ven-Allen Lubin dunk attempt. It was one helluva block, y’all — Hoggard is listed as 6’4” and Lubin is decidedly taller than him. Oof.
Unfortunately for Hoggard, Scoremac had already made up his mind that he was going to have himself A GAME on the evening, and he took personal offense to Hoggard trying to make this about him at all. Scoremac drilled another three, and then Wertz found Lubin in transition for an and-one layup (he would miss the free throw), and the Irish were now up 26-11 at the under-8 media timeout. Things were going well.
I feel like I’m in heaven. But really I’m just at the Joyce— kates4cubbies (@kates4cubbies) December 1, 2022
That media timeout brought about my personal favorite thing, which is T-Shirt Toss Time, when the cheerleaders spread out around the borders of the court and pump up the crowd by titillating them with a free t-shirt that they plan to blindly rocket into the stands. This is, of course, always fun because there are typically DROVES of fully-grown adults who stand up (folks who aren’t standing up many times during the actual game, mind you) trying to convince the unseeing cheerleader to throw the likely ill-fitting t-shirt their way.
On this night, there were certainly fewer adults acting in such a manner, which is probably for the betterment of society but also comes at a great personal cost of my entertainment in Purcell.
Once the final balled-up t-shirts had been thrown well over the heads of anyone remotely close to the court, the game started back up to the smooth jazz tune of Daney G’s old school post-up/backdown game, with him scoring basically via sheer power of will alone. Wertz followed that up soon after with a really nice crossover move into a buried three, and the crowd was once again vibin’ with the Irish up 31-13.
Tyson Walker of Michigan State managed a three to try to stop the bleeding, but Ryan subsequently knocked down another three of his own (sensing a pattern here), and as folks fought for position away from the shooter, MSU was whistled for a foul — that gave the ball back to the Irish, despite the made three.
SCOREMAC IS BACK— Notre Dame Men's Basketball (@NDmbb) December 1, 2022
Scoremac, of course, used the opportunity to work on his short game, making a layup to score 5 points in one possession.
ND got a stop, and then on the ensuing possession, Scoremac definitely screamed out “HEAT CHECK” as he launched a deep three from the top of the key, swishing it home and giving him 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 5-of-5 shooting from three through 15.5 minutes of basketball. ND led 39-16 at that point, with 4:33 to go in the half.
Folks were, to put it simply, enjoying his performance. Some even felt personally connected to what was happening, and it’s hard to argue with those results...
It was probably inevitable Cormac would become unstoppable once I started wearing this jersey pic.twitter.com/cxNY9IHRJK— J.J. Post (@JayJayPost) December 1, 2022
During the final media timeout of the half, they announced over the speakers that at halftime the students would be throwing paper airplanes onto the court, and that anyone sitting near the court who didn’t wanna maybe get hit should get out of the way. Just incredible dedication to this theme, you guys. I can’t get over it.
During the timeout, the crowd’s entertainment was the Notre Dame Pom Squad, and for roughly the 6th year in a row, I was once again on the edge of my seat watching and waiting to see if they would remain the Pom Squad for their entire performance, or if they would cast their pom poms asunder and make that legendary transformation into just being THE SQUAD, which always seems to rile the crowd up.
They played coy for a while, refusing to ditch those pom poms...until it happened! That’s what you like to see, you guys — they’re already in ACC form, and it’s wasn’t even December yet.
Final note from that timeout — after the Pom Squad/THE SQUAD finished, the cheerleaders went out on the floor to do some cheerleading things, and as part of that there were male cheerleaders carrying female cheerleaders around, with the cheerleader being carried putting her arms out and pretending to fly, like a plane. I cannot stress enough — NOTRE DAME HOOPS NEEDS MORE THEME NIGHTS, THIS RULES!!!
The next few minutes involved ND getting a little sloppy to let the Spartans get within 16 points, and me sitting in my seat toying with figuring out a way to use Joey Hauser’s last name to make a Professor Yurabay reference from I Think You Should Leave. I just kept saying “Hauser? I barely know her!” and then “Hauser? I barely know Dylan’s burger!” over and over again to myself until I thought it was funny.
Also, at this point in the game, with MSU making a mini-run, I went to the stats to see what the “Current Trends” section said, and found this — which I’m not sure makes sense, but I guess is possible if the Irish didn’t shoot the ball much in that 3:07 stretch?
Finally, with MSU threatening to enter halftime with all the momentum (albeit still down 16 points), Starling flipped that switch that great players can flip and decided he was gonna go out there and get a bucket, hitting a pull-up jumper with 3 seconds to go in the half and sending the Irish into the locker room, up 18 at the break.
As I mentioned above, halftime brought us a fun way to connect the students, the halftime entertainment, and the theme of the night, with all of the students making paper airplanes and trying to throw them as far as they could onto the court from their seats in the Leprechaun Legion.
The competition was, of course, sponsored by the South Bend International Airport, and the students had 30 seconds to launch their airplane, land it on the bounds of the court, and win a $500 flight voucher from the SB Airport.
When they started that 30 seconds, everything went exactly as you’d expect. Some legitimately solid airplanes made some nice flights. Many others went haywire and flew sideways, straight down, backwards, etc. And then there were even kids who were real wise guys, crumpling up their paper into balls and throwing those to get them farther (those were not counted, it seems).
Then we all watched as the Leprechaun measured/verified the winner, refusing to use the commonly accepted method for measuring distance in sports (big chains connected to tall orange cones). Eventually, some kid named Aidan Curry (I think) was announced as the winner, despite the outcry from some kids who really wanted the Leprechaun to decide theirs went further.
Overall, it was pretty entertaining — way better than lots of other halftime shows, but also not quite as good as the best of the best.
So, I would like to give this a 7 on the scale of 1 to Red Panda. Really solid stuff for such a simple and cheap idea.
2nd Half Details
As the second half was preparing to begin, the Purcell video board operators threw up a pump-up video that started with a clip of Andrew Garfield dunking in one of the Spiderman movies (I think?), and then went into the Quad City DJs’ “Space Jam.” This got the whole crowd revved up, but especially the student seemed to be feelin’ it.
Starling got things going with a three-point play and another bucket to combat some scoring from MSU, and so the Irish led 47-28 with 17:38 to play. The Spartans added a couple buckets to make it sort of interesting at 47-32, and we hit the under-16 media timeout.
During said timeout, a Dance Cam was done, with Purcell rocking out to the actual “Great Balls of Fire” clip from Top Gun: Maverick and then following that up with some Tag Team — “Whoomp! (There It Is)” to be specific — which got lots of fans out of their seats, thrusting awkwardly along to the music. One particular student wearing a winter coat at the front of the Lep Legion was killing it, I’d like to note.
The next couple minutes after that timeout featured no one making any shots, with the Irish hitting a drought of 3 minutes and counting without any points. Of course, as I typed that into my notes, Scoremac’s scoring senses started tingling, and so he proceeded to hit YET ANOTHER three, putting the Irish back up 50-32. That one was set up by a smart kick-out by Lubin to Wertz, who deftly flipped it to his left for Scoremac to catch, rise, and fire.
After a Lubin basket and a nice Daney G fall-away jumper helped get the score to 54-36 in favor of the Irish, we hit the under-12 media timeout and were treated to a rapid-fire get-to-know-him feature on the video board, with Daney G interviewing Wertz. Again, it was hard to hear everything he said, but some things I picked up on:
- I think he said he speaks Chinese?
- He loves Drake
- His favorite place on campus is The Grotto
- He’s a big TikTok guy
- He thinks Konieczny is the team’s best dunker
- In a free throw contest, he says he would defeat Mike Brey
- His first car was a Nissan Sentra
- He likes to sleep in
While we were all watching that segment on the video board, it appeared that a cheerleader got accidentally dropped by another cheerleader. Luckily everyone appeared to be okay, and they all recovered to lead us in a rousing “Go! Irish!” chant before bringing us yet another T-Shirt Toss Time.
Out of the timeout, MSU got a couple buckets to cut it to 54-40 with 9 minutes still to play, and I think all Irish fans collectively braced themselves for a Spartans run and a too-close, stressful finish.
Daney G did manage to put together a cool, collected post-up and turnaround jumper to put the Irish back up 16 heading into the next media timeout, though, which brought us to the true turning point of the game. It was time to do the “Basketball Shuffle,” wherein an animated basketball is shown to be underneath one of three ND monograms, which are then shuffled various times and a fan has to pick the right one the ball is under after they’re done shuffling.
On this fateful evening, the selected fan was none other than Scoremac’s greatest advocate and OFD’s own, J.J. Post:
@JayJayPost on the jumbotron for basketball shuffle!!!!!— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) December 1, 2022
Post showed incredible composure and focus in tracking the monogram with the basketball under it throughout the shuffling, coming out on top in the end by choosing the correct answer, Monogram #3.
That inspirational performance, as you can imagine, energized the Notre Dame squad. Daney G came out and absolutely rejected an MSU shot attempt to force a shot clock violation. Zewski hit a three-pointer while falling over. Michigan State shot an air-ball, leading to some classic air-ball chants from the students. And Wertz had to change jerseys for some reason, giving the students yet another reason to chant as they chanted his new number, “FORTY! FORTY! FORTY!” Wertz would then use that support to help him find a cutting Zewski for a slam that put the Irish up 21 (61-40) with just 6 minutes to play.
During yet another timeout, it was time for the band to play the 1812 Overture, and so just like at football games, the in-game host interviewed a small, adorable child and had him give the band the order to start playing. He was asked how old he was, to which he replied that he was 6, and then she asked how long he’d been an Irish fan for, and he replied with “6 years.” The crowd gave one huge collective “AWWWWW” and then he nailed the “Go Irish, hit it band!” command before stealing all our hearts with a smile.
After the break, Wertz got a couple free throws to make it a 9-0 run for the Irish while MSU was on a 3+ minute scoring drought. It also needs to be noted that it was a 7-0 run since J.J. Post’s big moment with the Basketball Shuffle game. MVP!!!
After some game action that wasn’t too much to write home about, we got one more media timeout and were treated to that weird video with the rodent saying “aaaaayyyy-oooooooooo” and then the whole crowd yells that back at the rodent. I don’t necessarily like or dislike that thing, but just want to say that it’s one of those things where, if an alien came to our planet and saw that, I would really struggle in explaining what they just saw to them.
Once play resumed, it basically became a J.J. Starling showcase with random garbage time three-pointers for MSU sprinkled in.
Starling hit a shot while falling over, then a jumper, and then picked up a couple blocked shots in a span of a minute and a half. I’ve said it a few times already this year and I will say it again — this kid is gonna be GOOD.
The Irish iced the game and sent any remaining MSU fans who hadn’t already left (many had) streaming for the exits when Daney G was found wide open in the corner for a three to make it 70-47.
MSU would score 5 more points, and then the Irish celebrated a CONVINCING 70-52 victory over the #20 team in the country. That win also locked up the final ACC/Big Ten challenge in favor of the ACC, so I guess if you have conference pride or something, that’s a fun note!!!
Stray Observations / Closing Thoughts
Alright, I’ve already written way too many words here, so I’ll be brief/punchy with these (yeah right, Pat) and then we’re all done:
- When Scoremac dials in, HOT DAMN...that felt like that NCAA Tourney vs. Alabama all over again — this team can win a lot of games if he can score at a high level with a little more consistency
- Can we talk about the transformation Trey Wertz has had??? He seemed lost/without a clear role the last two seasons, but he looks like a whole new player running the show. He’s quickly become the best passer on the team and has a knack for finding open shooters and cutters. His Assist-to-Turnover Ratio is 3.0, which is currently tied for 43rd in the country. Never saw that kind of distribution ability coming after the last two years.
- J.J. Starling still has plenty to work out, including becoming a more consistent outside shooter and hitting his free throws, but WOW is this kid polished at an early stage of his career. His finishing ability is miles ahead of where Blake Wesley was really all of last season, and it’s fun to have a guy on the team who can legitimately create his own shot and get to the bucket at-will, and then also finish. His defense is starting to come along, too. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the best player on the team by the end of the year.
- It was fun to finally see this team have the offensive performance we wanted while simultaneously doing enough on defense to blow out a good opponent. That’s an awesome sign, especially with Marcus Hammond still not back yet and the rotation just 6 guys. Hammond’s return and ability to mesh into this group and add points off the bench will be critical for their ability to hold up over the course of the conference play gauntlet.
- This win was massive for ND’s tournament resume. The St. Bonaventure loss was pretty rough and considering how down the ACC appears to be again, the Irish HAD to take advantage of their non-conference games against MSU, Marquette, and Georgia to build a resume that’s not just based on beating mediocre conference opponents. Getting this one is huge, especially considering Shaka Smart has Marquette playing really well.
- Shout out to the ACC’s newest member for giving the conference bragging rights FOREVER. You’re welcome, y’all
ACC about to clinch the challenge with Notre Dame's win, which means it has bragging rights for eternity— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) December 1, 2022