The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team, fresh off a dramatic and exhausting double-overtime victory in the First Four against Rutgers, kept the momentum going this afternoon in the first round, beating the 6th-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide 78 to 64 at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
The Irish were led on the afternoon by Cormac Ryan, who scored 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting (7-of-9 from three) and snagged 6 rebounds. 29 points was not only a career-high for the senior, but set a record for most by one player in the NCAA Tourney under Mike Brey (same with his 7 three-pointers made).
Other key contributions came from Paul Atkinson Jr. (13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals), Blake Wesley (18 points, 3 steals), and Nate Laszewski (10 points, 6 rebounds), while the rest of the team was relatively quiet but did play some solid defense and help out on the boards.
Overall, Notre Dame as a team shot 54% from the field and 63% (10-of-16) from long range while winning the rebounding battle 34-30.
The Crimson Tide were paced in scoring on the evening by Keon Ellis (16 points, 9 rebounds), while Jaden Shackelford (13 points, 7 rebounds), JD Davison (11 points, 9 assists), and Juwan Gary (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) chipped in as well. Alabama shot 41% from the floor overall and 35% from long range on the afternoon while winning the turnover battle 14 to 18.
The game began slowly for both teams, as they combined to hit just 2 of their first 14 field goal attempts. The Irish then got a boost from Cormac Ryan catching fire, as he hit his first 4 shots, including 3-of-3 from long range, and finished the half with 18 points and 4-of-5 shooting from deep.
That, plus Crimson Tide starting guard Jahvon Quinerly going down with a serious knee injury early on, led to the Irish grabbing a small lead midway through the first half.
The Crimson Tide fought back, though, dominating the paint early and picking up their defensive intensity. They managed to take a 22-21 lead with a little less than 8 minutes before halftime. The two teams more or less traded baskets until late in the half, when the Irish strung together some stops and turned it up offensively, going on a 9-0 run to take a 41-33 lead. The Tide managed a three-pointer and a forced turnover before the end of the half, though, giving us our 41-36 halftime score, Notre Dame in the lead at the break.
In the second half, the Irish kicked things off with a Nate Laszewski three to extend their lead to 8, but 6 straight points from the Tide made it a close game again, as the Irish struggled to both play good defense and play efficient offense. A Cormac Ryan three picked up right where the senior left off in the first half, though, burying it to give the Irish a 47-42 lead at the first media timeout of the half.
From there, the Irish began to really take over, using a 17-5 run midway through the half to extend their lead to 14 with about 8 minutes to play. Alabama refused to go completely quietly, cutting the deficit to 8-10 points a few times. But eventually the Irish were just too much for the Tide, especially with Blake Wesley emerging from his slump to make some pretty awesome plays down the stretch, especially defensively and in transition.
Oh yeah, Cormac Ryan continued his awesome performance down the stretch as well:
The final minute or two consisted just of Notre Dame playing keep-away, hitting free throws, and giving Alabama some cheap buckets, and the Irish coasted to a 14-point victory over the Crimson Tide.
With the win, the Irish advance to the second round in the West Region, and will now face the #3 seed, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who blew out Montana State in the first round by a staggering final score of 97-62. The two teams will play on Sunday, time TBD.