As I took in Senior Day at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, I was reminded of a bit of dialogue from one of the greatest TV shows of all-time, Community (my mind randomly connecting real life to that show is something that happens quite often, in case you wanted a quick view into how my weird, dumb mind works and what I use my limited memory capacity for):
Britta Perry: Troy... society programs us to dispose of the elderly because they don’t work or buy things, but don’t be blind to your grandmother’s value. You need to cherish her.
Troy Barnes: You cherish her.
Britta Perry: I’m sure I will. You know she’s not gonna be around forever.
Troy Barnes: I wanna believe you’re right, Britta, but you never quite are, are you?
Any of you who are also fans of that show will recognize this back-and-forth between Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes and Gillian Jacobs’ Britta Perry from the Season 1 episode “Basic Genealogy,” and it’s the very beginning of a secondary plot to the episode that ends with Troy’s grandma “whooping” Britta because she refuses to disrespect the old woman and agrees to let her punish her for something she said upon meeting her, thinking it will be a literal slap on the wrist when in all actuality it is much, much worse.
It’s funny here especially, because as I think about this in relation to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team, I think a lot of us, at least heading into this season or even early on in this season, would have heavily related to Troy. This group of seniors had come in super-hyped and had been entirely disappointing in their team accomplishments — a 45-46 record over the last three seasons, 0 postseason tournament bids, let alone NCAA Tournament bids — and so we really just were hoping the time would come when they’d depart the program and things could basically start anew without them.
However, I think it’s safe to say, as we all watched Mike Brey and his senior-heavy squad lock in the #2 seed in the ACC with a 15-5 conference record on Saturday, that we’ve all turned into Britta here as the season has progressed. We don’t think these seniors should simply be disregarded or cast off from the program — instead, we’ve grown to cherish them as they’ve proven they’ve still got it, and can still pass along a strong “whooping” — although unlike the last 3 years, the team taking the whooping wasn’t the Irish.
On Saturday, in fact, it was the Pittsburgh Panthers.
This is my recounting of the sights, sounds, and experience that was Senior Day 2022 — when the oldest team Notre Dame has ever had put an absolute shellacking on an overmatched opponent and proved they’re not done yet, despite being written off over the last few years.
My trip to South Bend for the game got off to a fun start at my local Enterprise, where I arrived a few minutes early to pick up my rental car only to find out they were waiting on a bunch of cars to be brought over from other locations, because they had nothing available at the moment (except for a Dodge Charger that, and I quote, “has something wrong with the tires”).
So, for the next 30+ minutes, I got the lovely opportunity to bond with an ever-increasing crew of strangers just trying to get their cars and get outta there, as we all waited in the tiny room while absentmindedly watching something about the Bassmaster Classic on the TV. NOTE: I have never been in this Enterprise and NOT seen something on the TV about the Bassmaster Classic.
Anyway, after we let someone jump the line because she had a job interview she was trying to drive to, I finally got set up with my hastily-cleaned Mazda3, which was a pretty fun combination of pretty slick/fancy car and also a tiny little compact vehicle where my head was scraping the ceiling if I sat up straight in the driver’s seat. Using the Boston driver blood inside me thanks to my father, I navigated aggressively and with a foot of lead to Purcell, parked, and managed to get to the Press Box JUST before Senior Day festivities began.
Senior Day Festivities — Pregame
For each senior, they announced them with a video on the Purcell Video Board of Mike Brey saying lots of nice things about them, and then had them each walk out with their family to greet Brey, take a picture with him, and then stand on the court as the rest of the seniors came out.
With 7 seniors to celebrate on this team, I have to assume that’s easily the most Notre Dame has had, at least in Brey’s tenure, to celebrate on such an occasion. And then I got to thinking — which other teams came even somewhat close to having that many old dudes?
Here are the top ND teams of the Brey era in terms of number of seniors on the roster:
1. 2021-2022: 7 seniors (Hubb, Ryan, Wertz, Goodwin, Laszewski, Atkinson Jr., Carmody)
T-2. 2017-2018: 6 seniors (Bonzie, Farrell, Geben, Torres, Gregory, Nelligan)
T-2. 2010-2011: 6 seniors (Hansbrough, Abromaitis, Scott, Martin, Nash, Kopko)
T-4. 2013-2014: 5 seniors (Atkins, Grant, Knight, Sherman, Crowley)
T-4. 2001-2002: 5 seniors (Humphrey, Graves, Swanagan, White, Thomas)
T-6. 8 teams with 4 seniors
Anyway, back to the Senior Day festivities. It was a nice moment to see Brey talk about each guy and have them and their families be applauded as they walked out. And it was fun to see some childhood photos of each senior tweeted by the NDMBB Twitter account as well.
So, let’s quickly take a look at each, and also I will offer up a fun little “senior” comparison for each guy, identifying an old person character from a show or movie I love that represents them or that they remind me of.
Paul Atkinson Jr.
“Senior” Comparison: Gandalf, Lord of the Rings
I’d liken Atkinson grad-transferring to ND for this season as similar to when Gandalf returns as Gandalf the White to join up with the Fellowship, who thought they were going to have to accomplish their goals on their own.
Instead, he showed up with exactly the skill set they needed — a big man who could score from the low post, contribute on the boards, and help guard the interior. I know that comparison makes no sense considering Gandalf was with the Fellowship initially whereas Atkinson was not with ND prior to this year, but maybe think of it as John Mooney and Juwan Durham being Gandalf the Gray in terms of what they could do, but Atkinson showed up and was able to do a bit of everything as a more evolved member of the team.
I’d even add that although Atkinson has been good all year, he seemed to crank his game up a notch just when the team needed to make a run in ACC play this last month and a half, similar to how Gandalf returned with the Riders of the Rohirrim just when the good guys at Helm’s Deep needed him.
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
He's our squad's leading rebounder and holds one of the nation's best field goal percentages among all active NCAA players.— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) March 5, 2022
Though he's only been with us a short time, Paul has been an amazing addition to our program!#GoIrish | @paulwall561 pic.twitter.com/HGOslhtDlV
“Senior” Comparison: Tran, New Girl
In terms of “senior” characters, Wertz was a bit of a difficult one to figure out. He’s one of the seven-man rotation that Mike Brey has played this season, but averages far and away the least minutes of the group, and has had numerous games where he’s been quiet, stoic, and despite doing plenty of important work in ball handling, shooting, perimeter defending, etc., he hasn’t always stood out or loudly announced his presence on the floor.
To me, that’s just like Tran from the show New Girl. Tran is a random old man who sits down next to Nick Miller in the park one day when Nick is having somewhat of an inner crisis attempting to deal with his anger.
Tran says nothing, but becomes a sounding board, confidant, and somehow a wise advisor for Nick despite never speaking — and he’s a key contributor to Nick’s growth throughout the show, helping him with his anger, introducing him to his granddaughter to date, and otherwise just being present at numerous key moments of Nick’s life.
I see Trey the same way — he might not always be jumping off the screen in the loudest way, but he’s been critical to this team’s performance, development, success, etc. just by being there and playing the supporting role he does. This team has certainly been a Nick Miller in terms of how it’s not perfect and has come a long way from where it started as an immature, inept, lost team — and as it’s become a Tourney team and #2 team in the ACC, Trey “Tran” Wertz has been instrumental in getting them to that point.
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
One of the most clutch shooters — he became our 66th 1,000 point shooter in program history and helped us secure some noteworthy wins in his time in the blue and gold.— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) March 5, 2022
Proud to celebrate you today, Trey!#GoIrish | @_TDub3 pic.twitter.com/twi405yncQ
“Senior” Comparison: Ned Jones, Parks and Rec
This is a bit of a deep cut but still a reference that anyone who’s seen Parks and Rec multiple times, like I have, will understand. In the show, Leslie Knope is running for Pawnee City Council and there’s an episode where she’s trying to get the endorsement of Ned Jones, who’s President of Pawnee Seniors United. Ned is an amazing character — he’s no-nonsense (“She wants to have a meeting with me at 5:00. I told her sorry. I don’t talk politics after dinner.”), admires people with grit (like his brother who lost a third of his body in a motorcycle accident — the middle third — “they sutured the hell out of him. He’s— He’s fine now. Much shorter, but a good-looking, young, flat man.”), is a natural-born leader with great influence (the show makes it clear that Pawnee seniors will vote for whomever he endorses), and he knows how to announce his presence:
Life advice: enter every room like you're Ned Jones pic.twitter.com/GIYZ1MVSEd— Not a Fan of Sports (@Psully226) February 14, 2019
To me, this is Cormac Ryan, without question. He’s a gritty, tough player who came in as a transfer and was such a natural leader that the team voted him a captain before he’d played a minute of basketball for the Irish. These teammates would clearly follow him to the ends of the earth, just like the Pawnee seniors would with Ned Jones.
Ryan does all the little things, gets dirty, and has recently begun to assert himself offensively, essentially shouting “Cormac Ryan is here, say hello to Cormac Ryan!” on Saturday as he buried 5 three-pointers.
Simply put, Cormac Ryan thinks stairs are a young man’s game, and he’s done a fantastic job doing a little bit of everything this year to “Ramp-Up ND” and elevate the team to the level they needed to be at to earn a Tourney bid.
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
“Senior” Comparison: Pierce Hawthorne, Community
Let me say up-front, for any of you who’ve seen Community, that no, I don’t think Robby is an offensive, racist, misogynist guy like Pierce shows himself to be time and again throughout the show. But, I do think this comparison can check out in a number of ways.
First of all, just on the surface: Pierce is accident-prone. Over the course of his 4 seasons on the show, we see him injure his leg on a drum set, break both his legs in a bad trampoline accident, overdose on pain medication, and experience a PAINFUL mishap with a product he invested in, the trouser bench (just to name a few of his injuries/accidents):
Similarly, poor Carmody has had horrible luck in his Notre Dame career, suffering season-ending injury after season-ending injury that just pushed his likelihood of ever truly playing ACC basketball again to nearly nonexistent. So, obviously that part of the comparison matches up.
But in another sense, Robby is much like Pierce in that they don’t let any of their misfortune — in Robby’s case, undeserved, but in Pierce’s case both deserved and undeserved — stop them from having a great attitude, contributing to the group as much as they possibly can, and continuing to go out there and try to come back from their shortcomings as best they can while getting the absolute most they can out of their experience at their respective schools.
I believe it was Pierce, in a season 1 episode called “Beginner Pottery,” who said, “I mean, if I ever let being bad at something stop me, I wouldn’t be here. That thing some men call ‘failure,’ I call ‘living.’ ‘Breakfast.’ And I’m not leaving until I’ve cleaned out the buffet.”
That’s exactly how Carmody has approached his unlucky string of injuries — not letting it get him down, sticking with the team and supporting them as best he can, and making sure to still get the most out of his Notre Dame tenure whether he’s been able to get on the court or not. I think there’s a lesson in there for all of us about not letting setbacks keep us from making the absolute most of our lives and continuing to press forward and strive for our goals. And I’d like to thank Robby for helping display that at such a young age.
The last thing I want to mention — at the end of the video shown on the video board for Carmody, Brey said, “We’re gonna get him healthy, and our fans are gonna see him before it’s all said and done.” That, coupled with Carmody walking out with his family dressed in an Irish uniform, gave me a few goosebumps, because at least in this game, on Senior Day, he was going to get his own little moment as reward for “cleaning out the buffet” like Pierce.
Weird, but awesome to see @NDmbb senior guard Robby Carmody in uniform going through early warmup routine.— Tom Noie (@tnoieNDI) March 5, 2022
This is the first game that Carmody is dressed in uniform since Dec. 4, 2019, the night he hurt his left knee in the closing minutes of a loss at Maryland.
That's 822 days
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
“Senior” Comparison: Creed Bratton, The Office
I have seen The Office more than anyone I know. I love the show, but also know it super well and will admit it got severely overhyped and over-referenced over the years. With that said, there are some parts of that show and character performances that I think are nearly perfect, and one of those is Creed Bratton, who’s a wild secondary character in the Dunder-Mifflin Scranton branch who’s just perfect. He’s weird, only has a few lines each episode, and almost never misses in terms of his bits/jokes/subplots landing perfectly.
To me, that’s kind of what Nate Laszewski has become. Sure, he’s not perfect, especially if you were to try to lean the entire performance of the team on him. Similarly, too much Creed would probably have gotten old fast. But Nate Laszewski just finished a regular season where he shot FORTY-SEVEN PERCENT from three-point range. 47!!!! That’d be 50% if you were rounding.
Zewski has always been a good shooter — we knew that about him as he came to ND as a freshman. But it took him a couple years to really adjust to the college game and get his shot right, and with so much else going on this year, I think a lot of people have skimmed over what he accomplished in his shooting. Mike Brey has NEVER had someone who shoots as many 3-point attempts as Zewski hit 47% from downtown. The closest we’ve seen is from Scott Martin (46% in 2012-2013), Ryan Ayers (45% in 2007-2008), Kyle McAlarney (46% in 2006-2007), and Chris Quinn (45.5% in 2004-2005). That’s some pretty great shooting company, and yet Zewski shot better than all of them this season.
So, to me this comparison makes sense. Alone, he can’t carry the show — but as part of the cast, Nate “Creed Bratton” “Zewski” Laszewski basically never misses and is an absolute star in the context of this show/team.
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
Since he arrived on campus, he's evolved his game and made his way to being a leader in both the league and in program history.— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) March 5, 2022
Here's to you, Flamethrower ☄️#GoIrish | @natelaszewski pic.twitter.com/oDtgTTfoCe
“Senior” Comparison: Professor Yurabay, I Think You Should Leave
This is a fun one — for Goodwin’s whole career, he’s shown us flashes that both showed how good he could be and how he kept getting better each season. And yet, until this year, he still seemed to disappear in big moments, go into slumps, and just not really seize the role of All-ACC player that we all kind of felt he could have been seizing for this team, especially as a scorer but really also as an all-around player and leader.
This year, it’s finally felt like Daney G has gotten assertive and made that jump. Sure, he’s still had a few off-games, but most players will have some bad scoring nights here or there. The key is that Goodwin, like Professor Yurabay in the above sketch, finally said “GIVE ME THAT” to being a consistent All-ACC performer and team leader, and went on to HOUSE the proverbial “being one of the best players in the ACC” burger that he regretted not ordering in the first three years of his Notre Dame career.
With that said, I’d like to dedicate this part of the recap and all great Daney G moments going forward to the late, great Bob McDuff Wilson, who played Professor Yurabay in the amazing sketch above and passed away last month. Here’s to hoping you guide this team to great success in the upcoming postseason, keeping all the players hungry enough to say “GIVE ME THAT” about big wins and trophies, and even if they say they’re “only joking,” helping them truly mean it.
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
“Senior” Comparison: Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid
This was the easiest one and necessitates the least explanation. At this point, we’re all pretty well aware of how close Hubb and Blake “Ralph Macchio” Wesley have been this season and how Hubb has become somewhat of a mentor to the star freshman, taking him under his wing, supporting him, teaching him things, sacrificing his own role so that Wesley can flourish, etc. So of course, Hubb compares very well to one of the greatest old man mentors in movie history.
I’d also like to think Hubb has literally been having Wesley do some chores that Wesley didn’t realize were actually making him a better player, but will come to fruition here down the March Madness stretch. I’d love to hear in the comments from anyone with any thoughts here — any ideas on what skills Hubb might have cleverly instilled in Wesley while basically freshman-hazing him, and how he did so?
Other note: Brey’s video for Hubb was a really good one, mentioning Hubb had become “like a son” to him, and mentioning how he’s always been the one on the team “quarterbacking” and “setting the tone” for everyone else. I couldn’t agree more, and it’s been fun to see Hubb really mature and develop into this awesome leader and mentor after such a bumpy career with lots of criticism thrown his way and way too much placed on his shoulders throughout. Whether he returns for a 5th year or not, this program is better for having had him come through it.
NDMBB Tweet and Adorable Childhood Photo:
He's calm under pressure and has established himself as one of the best playmakers in the league.— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) March 5, 2022
A true leader and standout point guard — thanks for all you've done, ️!#GoIrish | @PHubb_3 pic.twitter.com/MjGzUo6wXY
Okay, enough about those darn seniors and their lovely families. Let’s move on to the actual game, yeah?
Okay but really, now let’s do that.
- Jamarius Burton
- Ithiel Horton
- Onyebuchi Ezeakudo
- Mouhamadou Gueye
- John Hugley
For the special day, Brey went with an all-seniors starting lineup, having Wesley replaced by Zewski in the starting five:
- Prentiss “Paint the Fence” Hubb
- Cormac “Stairs Are a Young Man’s Game” Ryan
- Dane “I Housed Dylan’s Burger” “Daney G” Goodwin
- Nate “We Should Hang Out By The Quarry and Throw THINGS Down There“ “Zewski” Laszewski
- Paul “Look to My Coming, at First Light, on the Fifth Day. At Dawn, Look to the East.” Atkinson Jr.
1ST HALF ACTION
If it hasn’t yet been clear from what I’ve said above, this game was mostly a blowout from start to finish. The Irish opened up the game with a Cormac Ryan three and a smooth Paul Atkinson bucket on a nice post-up move, as Pitt’s best player — John Hugley — managed to pick up 2 fouls in the first 2:30 of action.
Already missing one of their best big men, Zewski went to work with little resistance from the Panthers, knocking down two open threes that provided the Irish a comfy 11-4 lead at the first media timeout, with the Irish having made 4 of their initial 5 shots of the game. During that timeout, the crowd was treated to “Welcome to the Jungle” over the loudspeakers while the Leprechaun swung a massive ND flag wildly at center court for a while. The vibes were great and the message was clear — Notre Dame was going to make Pitt’s day a living hell.
As is now tradition with this ND team, though, the Irish felt the need to still put together one of their patented scoring droughts, this time making sure to get it out of the way early in the first half. Luckily, Pittsburgh agreed to do the same, and so fans got to watch two basketball teams chuck the ball around with zero success for multiple minutes straight. Finally, Pitt’s Gueye got himself a dunk, and eventually Wesley got himself a bucket, and so both teams remembered how to put the ball in the basket...bringing us to another timeout.
This one continued the entertaining vibes of the “Welcome to the Jungle” flag waving from earlier, with two children competing in a race to see who could run down the court putting on various aspects of a basketball uniform and then dribble back down to the other end and make a layup first. The two kids — probably like 9 years old — had to first put on green ND basketball shorts, then green ND basketball jerseys, and then finally size 17 basketball shoes. From there, they were given a basketball and had to clomp their way back down the court in their way-too-big uniforms.
One kid jumped ahead in the race to put on the clothes, and so he was the first to get to the hoop. He displayed incredible poise and cleanly banked in his layup to win the contest, much to the dismay of the other kid, who’d finally caught up and had thrown up a desperation shot that clanked harmlessly off the rim. The crowd, though, went nuts when the first kid’s shot went in, and so it was clear the fans — despite the arena not being full and missing all the students (spring break) — was going to bring some noise on the day.
With the return to action came the return of some solid offense from the Irish, as Zewski managed a bucket to push the ND lead to 9 with a little over 11 minutes to go in the half, and then a bit later Wesley executed a great drive into the lane and flipped a nifty little pass to Atkinson alone under the hoop for an easy layup. 17-8 Notre Dame, 9 minutes to go in the half.
After the two teams had a fun little stretch consisting of just trading offensive fouls, we hit another media timeout and were treated to a little video of Zewski talking about the team, the program, what his time at ND has meant to him, etc. It was nice for sure, and then after the senior cheerleaders were briefly honored, the band dove into playing Icona Pop’s “I Love It” once again, driving the energy in the building up a few notches like that song always does.
Daney G drained a jumper, Pitt responded with an airball, and then Ryan knocked down yet another three, making it 22-10 and forcing Pitt to quickly call a timeout. That didn’t really help much, though, as Zewski got himself an easy layup thanks to a slick pass from Wesley soon after.
Pitt did score a couple times following that, making the game somewhat interesting at 24-17. Meanwhile, Ryan managed to draw another charge, which is a stat he HAS to lead the team in, but I’m not positive. Dude loves falling over backwards.
At another break in the action, Hubb did one of those rapid-fire question videos where we get to learn things about him. Here’s a summary of what I learned yesterday:
- He likes the movie Coach Carter
- His first car was a Chevy Impala
- His role model is his mom
- He would choose TikTok over Instagram
- When he’s relaxing, he likes to play video games (foreshadowing his Senior Speech after the game...stay tuned for more on that)
- His favorite part of practice is playing 5-on-5
- The best thing he learned from Coach Brey was to “be a man”
- He called J.R. Konieczny “Junior” and also said he’s the best dunker on the team
- He said he himself is the worst dunker on the team
- He called out Matt Zona as the worst dresser on the team, and claimed the title of “best dressed” for himself
- Finally, he said the best thing about playing at ND has been meeting so many great people and all the good connections you can make there
Following that fun interview, the video board cut into showing the 2016 second round game where the Irish beat Stephen F. Austin with a last-second tip-in, and at first it just seemed like they wanted to show a fun, recent highlight. But then it became clear why they showed the clip — Rex Pflueger, who was the freshman who made that tip-in to send ND to the Sweet 16, was in attendance, and they cut the camera to him so that the fans could give him a nice ovation. I love to see former players come back to visit, and clearly it meant a lot to Rex as well.
This fantastic break in the action ended in the best possible way, with the first T-SHIRT TOSS TIME of the game. Strangely, the grown adults standing and dancing and cheering and screaming for a free t-shirt was much more subdued than normal, but it might just have been the crowd saving their energy, knowing the final home game of the year would mean various chances for free crap to be thrown at them. If that was what they were thinking, they were absolutely right.
Returning to action finally, Blake Wesley drained a three on the offensive end, and then soon after fans were treated to some AWESOME defensive plays.
Just a max effort block right there by Cormac Ryan. Wow. Sprinted all the way from the far corner to stuff a fast break layup at the rim.— Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) March 5, 2022
Ryan’s block was the more impressive of the two considering where he came from and how it was a running, leaping swat of the Pitt shot, but Zewski’s follow-up block was pretty great too, ensuring the crowd got LOUD and that the Irish got the ball back, setting Wesley up to draw the foul on the other side and knock down some free throws.
Another quick timeout happened before the half, though with yet another T-SHIRT TIME, but this time with “Levels” bumping in the background. This time, the grown adults in the crowd were anything but subdued after seeing those two blocked shots. They leapt from their seats to try to draw the attention of the cheerleaders tossing t-shirts, just like old times.
That really ended the action of the first half, with ND heading into the locker room up 31-21.
Unlike last week’s excellent show put on by the Indiana Pacers dunking trampoline acrobats, the halftime show on Senior Day unfortunately left a lot to be desired.
It began with a red-haired ND freshman being brought out to participate in the South Bend International Airport’s sponsored contest they like to do, where the student gets to shoot a layup ($50), free throw ($100), three-pointer ($250), and half-court shot ($500) for increasingly larger sums of money. Now inherently, this isn’t a bad bit of entertainment. It’s fun to see fans shoot for big money — ND is no stranger to these kinds of things working out very well and being very fun, too.
However, unfortunately, these kinds of contests usually involve the person not really coming close to hitting the bigger shots and winning big money, and this ginger-haired fella was no different. He made his layup, thankfully, to get a cool $50 — that should buy him ~4 cases of Hamm’s Premium, so that’s not nothing! However, he missed his free throw, air-balled his three, and somehow put way too much power on his half-court shot, leaving with just the layup money. So, it really wasn’t very entertaining as a part of the halftime show.
After he was finished, they did also bring out Nan Tulchinski, as she’s been the official scorekeeper for the Irish since 1992 and is now retiring. It’s always a nice moment to recognize folks like this who’ve been working for the program for so long, but again, it’s certainly no Red Panda.
Honestly, the best part of halftime was either watching the two people with push brooms getting dust off the floor prior to the second half (makes me think of Spongebob at the talent show), or a girl in the upper deck stands near the press box absolutely SCREAMING something to someone below her about a selfie.
Those two things plus the Purcell DJ poppin’ in “We Ready” as some highlights played on the video board were more entertaining than anything else during the break, and thus on a scale of 1 to Red Panda, I’m forced to hand out a 3 for this game. Sorry.
2ND HALF ACTION
If the Irish left any doubt about how this game would end with just a 10-point halftime lead, they erased it within the first handful of minutes of the second half. Atkinson got things going with a bucket down low, Ryan drained yet another three (his 4th of the 5 he would finish with), Daney G found Atkinson on a nice inbound pass for another basket, and Hubb converted on an easy layup all as part of a 12-2 run to open the period for the Irish, who suddenly found themselves up 43-23.
Pitt was forced to call a timeout to try to stop the bleeding, and during that break we in the crowd were once again treated to that classic 3 hats and a ball video board game, but with the hats in this case being ND monograms. The fans seemed to love it as much as they always do, and it made me miss Binoculars Guy from the Georgia Tech game, considering he seemingly had to use binoculars to see the video board from the press box. I wonder what he’s up to, besides being Mr. Magoo levels of blind.
After watching the Leprechaun and one cheerleader awkwardly doing the Cupid Shuffle along to the song, the Purcell DJ tossed on “A Milli” to get the crowd rocking again. Playing something so great briefly helped Pitt, as Hugley knocked down a couple mid-range jumpers to try to keep Pitt in the game, but then Zewski buried a three followed by Ryan hitting his 5th on the day, and so with 15 minutes to play Notre Dame was back up by 20 points.
The next media timeout brought us one of those promotional, university-propaganda ND videos on the video board, and along with it were the students in the band cheering loudly every time Fr. Pete McCormick appeared on the screen. Love that tradition.
Then, yet another T-SHIRT TOSS TIME was thrust upon us, and it was absolute pandemonium as all the grown adults sensed that it was now the second half and their chances of earning a free t-shirt that won’t fit them right were beginning to dwindle. That energy level was only exacerbated by the band, who played Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” in an attempt to get EVERYONE up and begging for useless merch to be tossed their way.
One of the cheerleaders throwing the t-shirts absolutely ROCKETED one up into a section just next to the press box, and it definitely had the distance to get into the press box had it been hurled our way.
Back to the game — Atkinson had a nice kick-out that I thiiiiink was a bit of a no-look pass to Hubb, who drained a three. At that point, the Irish were a RIDICULOUS 10-for-16 from long range on the day — that’s 63% from three, you guys!!!
They would finish the game shooting 14-of-24 from deep, including an absurd 9-of-13 in the second half, as they literally rained threes on the Panthers like the Weather Girls rained men on us with their timeless classic of a banger:
Hugley continued to do some scoring to make up for all the time he missed in the first half with his foul trouble, but his best efforts still only made it 52-33 at the 13:40 mark. Pitt was actually able to then get it to a 17-point game a bit later, but a Daney G three on a nice extra pass from Wesley pushed the lead back to 20 with 12 minutes to play.
We then hit the under-12 timeout, meaning it was time for our favorite Purcell Video Board game, “What Year Was It?” For this one, they mentioned that Knives Out was released, “Old Town Road” hit #1 on the Billboard 100, and Zewski hit a buzzer beater three against Toledo. So, obviously the answer was 2019 — because no one could forget where they were and when it was that they first heard “Old Town Road” — that song changed lived, you guys.*
*Pat Rick Note: I feel like this came across as sarcastic, but I’m being genuine — that song RULED and so did/does Lil Nas X
Also during this timeout, the cheerleaders tossed foam balls into the crowd, forgoing their usual t-shirts they always toss. At this point, I gotta think there was an excess of ND merch they needed to get rid of this year, and so this being the last game, their instructions were basically to chuck it all into the stands. Lots of lucky fans went home with ill-fitting and/or useless souvenirs from this one!
Pitt made some moves to get within 16 points, threatening to maybe make it a game, but Trey Wertz responded by burying a three to put the Panthers back in their place. After Atkinson found Wesley cutting for a nice dunk and then Pitt’s Gueye nailed a three, Daney G scored on a couple possessions with a lefty baby hook and a three-ball, pushing the Irish lead back above 20.
Gueye hit another jump-shot soon after, showing he was one of the only Pitt guys able to find any success offensively on the day, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the Irish just coasting at that point.
They led 71-51 with 3:10 to go, and it was such a comfortable final few minutes that the band playing “Mr. Brightside” seemed more soothing than anything that would amp the crowd up, as the crowd was just cruising at a nice altitude of energy that was neither subdued nor too excited. Everyone was just happy about the lovely day and celebration of the seniors.
At that point, Brey subbed out the seniors for the reserves, allowing the elders to get a standing ovation from the fans as they finished their final regular season game with ND (although maybe not really for some of them). J.R. “Junior” Konieczny came in and made a three, while also helping Wesley get the ball to guys like Matt “Ari” Zona and Tony Sanders Jr. so they could get some reps in at the free throw line.
After I confirmed that one of the Pitt reserve names I heard was indeed “Aidan Fish” but that unfortunately the last name was actually spelled “Fisch,” the Irish dribbled out their final offensive possession to get a shot clock violation with 6 seconds to go. That allowed Brey to sub in Robby Carmody, who isn’t technically cleared to play, medically-speaking, but still got a special moment as the crowd gave him a standing ovation when he walked out onto the floor to dap up his teammates and watch the final 6 seconds of clock run off. That was a very cool little moment for a kid who just got unlucky, considering he could have had quite the Irish career with how highly thought-of his skills were entering the program.
So, Notre Dame put the finishing touches on their 78-54 victory on Senior Day, with all the old guys managing to contribute in some form or fashion, which was pretty cool.
After the game ended, they announced that they requested the fans stick around for a special video about the seniors and the seniors giving some quick speeches — here’s the video that was played, which was pretty fun just from the perspective of seeing how far some of these guys have come in 4 years:
A group of special men helping us do special things.— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) March 5, 2022
Today's senior-day win over Pitt was our 15th league win of the season — the most conference victories ever in a season!#GoIrish ☘️ pic.twitter.com/kNNQssYlVW
Then, each guy grabbed the microphone and said a few words — here’s what each guy talked about:
- Prentiss Hubb: He mentioned how everyone stuck with them through all their ups and downs over these last four years, and how now they’re finally doing their thing and hopefully gonna make a run. He then thanked his teammates, mentioning that they helped him grow as a person...especially Blake Wesley, as “beating Blake in (NBA) 2K all the time” helps his morale (an absolutely amazing quote for a Senior Speech). He then finished by saying, ”It’s been a long ride, but I’m gettin’ there.”
- Paul Atkinson Jr.: He talked about how he hasn’t been at ND long, but that he thinks they have a very “aerodynamic” team*. And then he mentioned their goal next week to go win an ACC championship.
*Pat Rick Note: “aerodynamic” is what the subtitles on the Purcell Video Board said here. I couldn’t hear what he said and it could have been something different, but that’s what I got from the captions LOL
- Cormac Ryan: He thanked his family, teammates, and coaches and made a point to say that the team is not done yet. His last line was, “It’s been fun in this regular season, but this postseason...you better watch out.”
- Dane Goodwin: He also thanked his family, friends, coaches, and teammates* and then mentioned how it was a “dream come true” to “grow up here in 4 years so far.” Then he finished by saying they’re ready to make a run in March.
*Pat Rick Note: I think every player actually thanked all these groups, I just was slightly distracted finishing my Quick Recap article when the speeches started and I don’t think I made note of it for Prentiss and Paul
- Nate Laszewski: Like those before him, he thanked his parents, his sisters, and his coaches — especially “Coach Hump” — and then also mentioned “T-Ro” (Tony Rolinski, the NDMBB strength coach), Father Pete McCormick for his positive attitude, his teammates — whom he called his “brothers” and “best friends” — the managers, and finally, the fans — for showing up. Then he finished by saying this year has been awesome, “but we’re not done yet, so go Irish!”
- Robby Carmody: He also thanked his family, the coaching staff, and his teammates for all having his back through all his injuries that he’s gone through, and for making him feel like still a part of the team despite all that.
- Trey Wertz: He thanked his parents, who he mentioned made the drive from Charlotte for this, as well as the coaches for bringing him into the program, as he’s really enjoyed these last two years. Then he thanked his teammtes, mentioned how it was “one heckuva ride,” and then echoed the sentiment that the team is not done yet, and then ended with a “Go Irish!”
Then, in a wonderful touch that made me giggle to myself, the players were given t-shirts to toss into the crowd for one final T-SHIRT TOSS TIME, spreading that joy and excitement to the fans one final time together at Purcell before they head off to Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament and then to who knows where for the Big Dance.
- 21 assists on 27 field goals, and 14/24 from deep including 9/13 in the second half? Oh, and out-rebounding the opponent by 8? Yeah, I’ll take that.
- This was a fun tweet to see after the game:
@NDmbb took my family to the ND game today. We were eating lunch outside by our car before tip. Blake Wesleys parents came up to my boys giving them ND hats and invited them to come down court side to meet their son. Incredibly nice gesture. #Irish☘️— Kyle Burkholder (@kjburkholder23) March 6, 2022
- Speaking of Wesley, he had a quietly very good/efficient day — 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers while only taking 7 shots and letting the seniors have their day...you love to see that
- The ACC Tourney bracket is officially set, with ND as the 2-seed set to either face the 7-seed Virginia Tech or the winner of 10th-seeded Clemson and 15th-seeded NC State. VaTech has won 9 of their last 11 after beginning the season 10-10, and they won their lone regular season matchup with the Irish, a 79-73 victory in Blacksburg that ND more or less choked away.
The Hokies look like the biggest threat by far to the Irish not making the semifinals, considering ND beat Clemson and NC State by an average of 12.75 points in their home-and-home contests with those two.
The 2022 ACC Tournament Bracket. pic.twitter.com/Gy6apNZRQA— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 6, 2022
- If the Irish make it to the semis, they’ll likely either face the North Carolina Tar Heels — who are fresh off the funniest and maybe most impressive win of ACC play, beating Duke at Cameron in Coach K’s final game there — or the Virginia Cavaliers, who despite always being at least pesky, proved to truly be down this season. My guess is ND would see the Tar Heels, and the way UNC is playing, the Irish would need to really bring their A-game to win and get a shot at Duke in the title game (or whoever upsets Duke...Miami? Wake? The Boeheim family???).
- One thing I will note: the ACC Tournament was held at Barclay’s in Brooklyn in 2017, when a team featuring Bonzie, Matty, White Steve, and Beacham walloped Virginia and took down Florida State in impressive fashion, and then had Duke on the ropes in the title game, prior to Bonzie spraining his ankle and Duke pulling out the victory. ND also saw some magic in Barclay’s in 2018 with their ridiculous comeback against Virginia Tech in the second round, so they’ve been able to do some postseason damage in that building.
- Clearly, that Barclay’s magic is on Mike Brey’s mind...it sounds like he believes in this team and thinks they could catch fire and do something crazy right about now:
And ya know what — why not? I’ve been saying it for years now with regards to ND men’s hoops, but this is why we follow these guys and why years like 2015 and 2016 were so fun. This Irish program under Brey is capable of hanging with the big boys, surprising folks, and making big runs in March. Ya just gotta BELIEVE IN SOMETHING.
So with that all said, I guess there’s just one thing left to do...