Well folks, it’d been nearly an entire year, but your favorite rambling idiot who likes to cover the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team finally made it back to campus to cover the squad live and in-person!
That’s right y’all, this past weekend I made the brave decision to tell my fiancée that a Saturday just 6 weeks before my wedding was going to be spent by me covering a 6-8 basketball team against a top-15 blue blood. And because she’s awesome, I was allowed to go do so and therefore was able to put together this little detailed recap for you.
This was my first game up close seeing Micah Shrewsberry coach the squad, and although ND fell 67-59 to the 14th-ranked Duke Blue Devils (falling to 1-3 in ACC play), it was still a fun time with plenty of great sights, sounds, and feelings as the program continues to find its footing with the new-coach reset, much like a baby giraffe learning to walk/run.
So, let’s dive into it so you can experience what I experienced and so we can talk about how this team is doing and how we can expect them to continue to fail and succeed and learn and grow throughout the rest of this season (and beyond). Let’s ride.
Being a hip city slicker who has no need to own an automobile while living in the concrete jungle known as Chicago, I began my Saturday journey to South Bend by walking over to my buddy Prison Mike’s apartment, trudging on a wet sidewalk with big, wet snowflakes coalescing in my hair as I cursed myself for deciding that THIS was the day I’d chosen to attend a game. Przn Mike owns a wonderful little Nissan Altima that I’ve borrowed on several occasions, and he was generous enough to once again lend me that vehicle.
Unfortunately, he handed me the keys and informed me that the gas gauge was showing less than 100 miles left in the tank, and thus that I would need to fuel up at some point before I got to campus. Being the risk-embracing daredevil I am, I briefly considered immediately getting gas before leaving the city, but that sounded like a nightmare considering I already despise driving in the city when I’m simply navigating to the highway, let alone looking for a little crowded gas station to stop at.
So, the drive to ND became a race against the car’s estimation of how many miles I could go on what was in the tank — a feature I love but also am always afraid is broken or wrong or inaccurate enough that I’ll end up breaking down with no gas and no easy way to get any. I refused to stop for gas until I got out of the more urban areas along the route and found some fresh air and a less crowded space, and am happy to say that I ended up stopping in Portage, Indiana for gas just down the road from a Dunkin Donuts I’ve stopped at numerous times on my way to Fort Wayne to visit friends.
After bringing my blood pressure down tenfold by giving the Altima a good 545 miles’ worth of gas, I was able to enjoy a stress-free drive the rest of the way, blasting a playlist I have on Spotify called “Emotional Shit” because I felt like having some feelings on this drive and figured the list of songs from high school senior retreat and several others that just MOVE ME would be perfect. And they were.
After choking up a few times on the easy drive into the Bend, I got to campus and quickly learned that the Genius of the Year Award had already been given out to whoever decided ND should host a hockey game and basketball game starting within 1 hour of each other, because there’s no way that would make the parking lots a complete shitshow at all. I soldiered on, though, parking the car and then meeting up with my friend Hux, who is objectively the biggest sports fan in the world and who’d driven up from Indianapolis just to catch the Irish against Duke, despite the fact Hux grew up a Kentucky and Purdue fan, and graduated from Purdue for college. Dude just loves sports, which I can always appreciate as my friend most likely to meet me for any random game at any time.
Hux and I parted ways so he could go inside to his seat in the student section (the kids were still on break — THESE STUDENTS JUST DON’T CARE ABOUT HOOPS! BACK IN MY DAY WE WOULD ALWAYS COME BACK EARLY FROM CHRISTMAS BREAK TO WATCH THE TEAM WITH A LOSING RECORD!!), and so I could go get my credentials and head to the press box, where I surprisingly had almost no trouble finding my assigned seat. That was my least embarrassing entrance there maybe ever. I did, however, trip as I trotted up the stairs after halftime, but luckily no one seemed to see that and thus I went unnoticed back to my seat.
Anyway, as I settled into my spot, I took a gander around Purcell Pavilion and noted that with no students there, the student section was obviously sold to the public, and by public I mean to Duke fans. Scores of folks in royal blue sat where the Leprechaun Legion normally sat, with Hux standing out as one of the only folks in the section not rooting for Duke and sporting their colors.
I texted Hux about it and we both agreed on a resolution for any games over winter break: the seats should not be sold at all, and instead they should be filled with cardboard cutouts of students in a very early-COVID style and vibe. That would create a student section that is both not supporting the opponent and also ominous/silent during free throws, which could help force a few misses by the more easily unnerved opponents.
The school doesn’t need the money from those tickets for just a couple games, and the students could put their own pictures of themselves on the cutouts’ faces and then dress their cutout however they like, and then see themselves on TV as they watch from their parents’ houses over break.
Hux even offered to help offset the costs of creating these cutouts, texting me, “I’ll donate the cardboard. All I ask for in return is a personalized jersey and a beer with Digger.”
It just makes sense, Notre Dame. Please take this idea into consideration.
As the teams warmed up, I got another text from Hux:
“Some kid on ND with red hair just tried to dunk, but got stuffed by the rim and fell on his back and just laid there for like 5 seconds.”
After getting some more info, Hux and I were able to determine that the player in question was Zane Harbaugh. This, of course, led to both of us immediately wondering if he’s related to Jim/John/Tom Crean’s wife. His und.com profile mentions nothing about that (mostly just that he’s apparently from Oklahoma and is a Finance major), but it also doesn’t say he ISN’T Jim or John Harbaugh’s son/nephew/cousin/something...so we both decided to assume he is related, and run with that as canon for the rest of his Irish hoops career.
It was around this time that we were introduced to Dara Mabrey as the in-game host, which was fun to see, and then they advertised a fun potential giveaway with free nachos for the fans, so that gave all of us something big to root for no matter how this game were to go. I love nachos.
The Purcell DJ was working overtime on the evening with the ND band not in attendance, and he started the day strong by blasting ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and then going straight into a remix of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” Just two of my favorite songs ever in quick succession — I love you, Purcell DJ.
As the rest of warmups and the national anthem and intros happened, there were a few other general observations I’d like to share:
- Hux and I were texting back and forth and somehow ended up agreeing to found a church together so that we could then start a basketball team for that church. Basically, we wanted to use the Bishop Sycamore blueprint to start something BIG (but without ruining kids’ lives/educations and instead just having fun and being co-coaches)
- Matt Zona was the first person to go in layup lines for the Irish — what a leader
- Hux just called my attention to Duke having an ARMY of assistants/staff??? Who pays for all these guys to travel and also what are all of their jobs???
- Now I’m imagining them all coming out of a clown car outside Purcell, because it somehow makes them less ridiculous to think of that being how they got to the game
- The national anthem was played by a guy named Ric Sexton using a saxophone, and I think I can now officially say that the national anthem should ONLY ever be performed by saxophone. That was electric.
- Nice smoke with green lights coloring it during introductions for the Irish
- I haven’t heard Cathy in a while, so I’m feeling GOOD
- It’s funny they make the cheerleaders come back from break for these games, but not the band or even part of the band
1st Half Action
The game started just as expected, with Duke missing multiple open three-pointers and Irish forward Kebba Njie muscling his way to a bucket. Marcus Freeman and his family were spotted as being in attendance, prompting Hux to text me “Freeman is courtside looking like a snack as always.” Everyone agreed, obviously, and even Twitter was going nuts with the super likable football coach’s presence at the game.
South Bend’s first family has made an appearance at the Joyce tonight. pic.twitter.com/ZOodpDDEmw— kates4cubbies (@kates4cubbies) January 6, 2024
J.R. Konieczny made his presence known early, as well, hitting a shot clock buzzer-beating three and then getting an emphatic block of a Duke shot, which led to Carey Booth snagging an offensive board and scoring on the other end to give Micah Shrewsberry’s squad a 6-2 lead after 3 minutes of action and an 8-4 lead heading into the first media timeout of the game.
Wanting to maintain the early momentum and buzz, the cheerleaders immediately came out during the timeout and tossed foam mini basketballs into the stands. We all know there’s nothing the fans want more than free garbage, and sure enough the crowd was hyped as the Purcell DJ pumped VERY loud music through the speakers and dozens of grown adults jumped up and down and screamed in hope of having a cheerleader throw a small basketball at them.
As this all occurred, I noticed those big megaphones the male cheerleaders carry and it got me to thinking — why, in 2024, do they have those? I’m sure they don’t actually do much to magnify their voices as they cheer. Are they just props? Do they just keep them around in case they want to create Cone Man yet again?
The cone man is here to collect your cones— 【 X A N A X D E E 】 (@xanaxdee) September 27, 2019
what will you do?
>Give him the cones
It’s a bit of a mystery to me, but I suppose some questions don’t need to be answered.
One mystery I will help answer is, “How can we make the Leprechaun running/dancing around the court more exciting and fun?” The answer is Heelies. The Leprechaun should wear Heelies so he can roll around and do fun tricks, etc.
Coming out of the break, fab freshman Markus Burton started to get hot, using a sweet crossover to create space and knock down a three.
He hit another jumper to put ND up 15-7, although that lead was short-lived with Duke immediately hitting a three-ball of their own. A Tae Davis layup, though, made it 17-10 Irish, and the Purcell crowd was starting to believe — albeit cautiously seeing as there were still 13 minutes left in the first half — that this could be the night for a big upset for this squad.
That feeling only grew after Konieczny nearly killed a guy with a hard screen in the backcourt (which was called for a foul but also kinda awesome), and then soon after that, Zona got himself a bucket to get the crowd REALLY going. We entered another timeout and the Purcell DJ treated us all to the greatest song of all-time, “Timber,” which only got the vibes of the arena even more elevated and fun.
This timeout also featured the Purcell video board showing us a Leprechaun logo bouncing around like we’ve all seen on DVD player screensavers, and that of course made me think of this cold open from The Office:
When the game returned to action, Duke’s Ryan Young got whistled for a travel, and looking at this guy I was struck by the fact that Duke has ALWAYS had at least one guy like this coming off their bench for probably the last 4 decades straight — the same goofy, Caucasian SF/PF who will have one game per year where he scores like 15 points (almost all from three-point range) but who otherwise just goes into the game to give starters a rest, use fouls, and look punchable. Luckily, this was not the one game per year where Young would be a menace.
I don’t know what was going on when I noticed, but as I was thinking about Ryan Young was around the same time when I realized just how loud Shrewsberry is in-person. He coaches with a ton of energy and volume and loves to yell, so that made me chuckle as he tried to relay some bit of coaching wisdom to an Irish player during live action.
Njie continued to have a nice first half, with one play he made involving him corralling a pass in traffic, collecting himself, and then spinning for a bucket against a defender, giving the Irish a 21-15 lead at the 8 minute mark. Njie’s not always super effective, but there’s definitely promise that the young big man can develop into a really nice piece down low by the time he’s done at ND.
Right after that basket happened, Hux sent our group chat a photo he took of me from across the arena, since I’d done the same to him and put it on my Instagram Story. It looks like I’m sitting amongst some fog or something, very ominous/spooky if I should say so myself:
Coming out of the under-8 media timeout, Shrewsberry the Younger knocked down a deep ball to give the Irish a 9-point lead, but before Purcell could even truly get rocking, Duke’s Jeremy Roach immediately hit an answer of his own from long range.
Action continued with both teams tossing their bodies around, as I noted on the official One Foot Down Twitter:
things are getting physical/sloppy and the refs are HERE FOR IT (i.e. not blowing their whistles even a little bit)— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) January 6, 2024
After the Purcell DJ played “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand for a fleeting moment, things started to come off the rails for the Irish a bit, as they committed several turnovers, bricked a few open shots, and kept allowing really easy Duke baskets.
Luckily, the next timeout helped stop the bleeding a bit so ND could regroup, and in the meantime the crowd was treated to Dara Mabrey hosting another excellent rendition of “Dress, Dribble, Shoot” which is, of course, the game they play where two fans have to quickly put on a jersey, shorts, and basketball shoes, then dribble down the court before shooting and scoring. The main attraction here is that it’s usually done by little kids, but the clothing is all designed for adults, and so the poor kids can barely move, are tripping all over themselves, and must have signed a waiver because this is a lawsuit waiting to happen if a kid falls the wrong way.
On Saturday, the two kids participating were maybe 7 years old, and so the jersey was like a dress on the two boys (Michael and Liam) and the shorts refused to stay up as they ran. One of the two kids sat down to put on the shorts, which was adorable and hilarious. Eventually, Michael fell near mid-court and couldn’t recover in time to catch Liam, who managed to hit a layup and win the contest.
Returning from the break, Davis managed to have a nice drive to the hoop to draw a foul, but he missed both free throws as the charity stripe continued to be unkind to the Irish in this one. Even overall and for both teams, it was certainly an ugly game from a shooting perspective.
Duke and ND are now a combined 5/23 from three point range— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) January 6, 2024
Still, with less than 3 minutes to go in the half, the Irish still clung to a 24-22 lead over the Blue Devils, and even extended that with a nice basket from Burton to make it a 4-point lead with just about 2 minutes before the half.
However, Duke managed to tie it up at 27 with a three-point play with 34 seconds to go in the half, and then after an Irish turnover the Blue Devils drew a foul and knocked down a couple free ones to send themselves into halftime up 29-27 over the Irish.
Unfortunately, the ND hoops program is clearly saving the more premium halftime experiences for the games where students will be there, as this one was simply the Notre Dame cheerleading team putting a huge mat down on the court and then performing their routine from Nationals. What the hell are Nationals???
So, I went to go meet Hux in the concourse to talk shop, discuss my upcoming wedding where Hux will be an usher for the ceremony, etc. It was a lovely time and if I were rating that brief conversation I would give it a 9 on a scale of 1 to Red Panda, but unfortunately that scale is strictly for rating the official ND hoops halftime entertainment.
So, I give that a 2 and we can move on to what happened in the second half.
2nd Half Goings-On
The second half of this one started just as one might expect, with Carey “On My Wayward Son” Booth getting an emphatic swat to get the crowd yelping with glee early. However, on a possession soon after the Blue Devils managed to avoid the lanky freshman’s swinging appendages, snagging an offensive board and getting an and-one dunk to deflate the crowd a bit.
During an early break in the action, the Purcell video board did that thing where they show an ND highlight, play a movie clip, and then blast a song and then have someone from the crowd guess the year all of those things happened/were released. This one involved the Pharrell smash-hit “Happy,” the original Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and Pat Connaughton’s thunderous posterizing dunk over Jabari Parker of the visiting Duke Blue Devils.
This was, of course, the year of 2014 — the fan that Dara Mabrey asked to answer it got it right, and Hux and I quickly sent each other a bunch of texts about the Connaughton dunk, because we’d gone to that game together to check out the Irish’s first ACC game as a conference member, seeing a bad Irish squad upset Parker’s ranked team in a win that foreshadowed what ND would do to Duke over the next couple seasons with Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, etc.
We also reminisced about driving back to St. Joseph, Michigan (where I lived at the time) in a massive snowstorm, listening to our beloved Indianapolis Colts get blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs for almost an entire game, only to get back to my place and see Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton shock the nation with a wild comeback.
Also during this time of reminiscing, the One Foot Down account received a wonderful notification of a new follower:
Welcome, “grillz.” I love your song.
Okay, so then the basketball game finally got back to action and the action actually picked up, with Braeden Shrewsberry knocking down multiple threes to help combat Duke hitting multiple shots, giving Scheyer’s team a 39-33 lead heading into the first media timeout.
Mark Mitchell, specifically, was making all sorts of shots on the day. The dude has an incredibly ugly shooting form/jump shot, but I cannot deny that it’s working all the same. He was Duke’s leading scorer on the day, and the Irish had no answer for the tall, strong, versatile big man who hit multiple shots from downtown while also getting plenty of dunks down low.
With the Irish needing a bit of a spark, they found it in Julian Roper II, who had a couple nice buckets that included a nice steal/offensive board and bucket:
After a bad turnover by Konieczny, Duke got themselves a couple threes, including one from Kyle Filipowski. Filipowski was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer entering the game, but found NO luck on the day thanks in part to some great defense by the Irish and also just an off game shooting for the big man with nice touch.
Him hitting that three seemed dangerous because it felt like he might catch fire finally, but the Irish did a good job keeping him locked down for most of the game after that.
With the Blue Devils threatening once again to pull away with an 8 point lead, the Irish once again rose to the occasion, refusing to go quietly or let their mistakes linger in their minds. Shrewsberry buried another three, and then after a stop by the ND defense, Markus Burton once again put the team on his back and made a great scoring play, converting on three points the old-fashioned way. Suddenly, Duke was up just 49-47 with 8:39 to go.
Unfortunately, this Irish team just can’t hide how young, inexperienced, and raw they still are. They immediately let Duke extend their lead to two scores yet again.
Duke responds with a three and their lead is back to 5. ND immediately follows with a traveling violation. Woof.— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) January 7, 2024
We've hit the under-8 timeout and Duke is up 52-47
During that media timeout, the crowd was treated to a “Go Irish, hit it DJ!” intro from two adorable, self-proclaimed lifelong-fan children, and then a sick light show was put on by the Purcell game production team that was pretty sweet for how many Duke fans were there and not participating.
It wasn’t OSU at ND football levels of cool light show, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
During the rest of that timeout, at some point I got a text from Hux that just said “MORE SQUIRTTLE.” I have no idea what he was referring to, because I was busy trying to reclip the string on my media credential lanyard that got unclipped on one side — I never really got it fixed, and thus resigned myself to having a crooked credential and not knowing why Squirtle was relevant. Bummer.
Out of the break, Burton hit a jumper to help bring the Irish closer, but Mitchell once again knocked down an ugly three to keep Notre Dame at arm’s length. Tae Davis responded with some playmaking, though, using his patented “falling-down shot” to make it 55-51 with just 6 minutes to play. Again, the Irish refused to quit against a more talented opponent.
After a dead ball, it was clear that the Purcell DJ thought we were heading into a timeout, because he started blasting Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down” for maybe 12 seconds before it was cut off with the resume of play. I think he should start playing tiny snippets of songs during dead balls more often, that was exhilarating (and could allow the students to then sing the rest of the song a cappella while play is going on, which would be fun and cool.
For the next couple minutes, the Irish did a great job getting stops defensively, but unfortunately they couldn’t get any points themselves, with both squads going on 2+ minute droughts. Duke broke theirs with a couple free throws and once again threatened to pull away, but Burton did an awesome job creating separation off the bounce while Mitchell guarded him. He managed to get off a long two-point jumper that he nailed to make it 57-53 Duke with 3:29 to go.
This led to the final media timeout of the game, which was used to put the weird dramatic squirrel/gopher/rodent video up on the board — the same one they do at football games. I guess the crowd gets into it a bit, but personally I don’t think there’s anything more annoying or that takes me more OUT of the moment during a close, tense game than that video. I would be fine with them never doing that again.
Out of the timeout, ND managed to get a stop and then Davis got himself a layup, pulling the Irish within a bucket. However, once again the Dukies responded immediately, with Filipowski getting a questionable call on an and-one bucket. He would miss the free throw, though, and Davis drew a foul on the other end with a chance to once again make it a 2-point game.
This ND team, though, just can’t make free throws. One of their several Achilles heels. And so Davis missed both his free ones, allowing Duke to take a 6-point lead with a put-back bucket by Mitchell as the Irish looked more and more tired as the possession wore on.
Burton managed to draw a foul and hit a couple free throws on his one-and-one, and after Duke missed the front end of a one-and-one right after, ND had another chance to make it a one-possession game and called a timeout with 41.9 seconds remaining.
They came out of the timeout and Shrewsberry ended up turning the ball over, and from there it was a game of ND hoping they could get a few easy buckets and then hope that Duke had picked up some bad habits from them at the charity stripe.
narrator: it was not.— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) January 7, 2024
Duke hits both shots and leads 65-59 with 19 secs to go https://t.co/g1fcYFKLp7
Unfortunately, Duke hit enough shots down the stretch and managed to escape with an 8-point victory on a snowy Saturday evening in South Bend, winning 67-59.
The Irish continued to show fight and flashes of some really nice improvement, especially on defense, but they still just don’t have enough scoring/shooting or athleticism to knock off a team with so much talent like the Blue Devils have.
Conclusions/Key Takeaways/Random Thoughts
- This team FIGHTS, man. They’re young and oftentimes look like 3rd graders who are still learning how to dribble, so that is frustrating — but we knew they wouldn’t be ready to truly compete this year, and so it’s just nice to see them showing improvement in performance (this was miles ahead of that Citadel game) and not letting their early-season struggles impact their determination/desire to compete with the best of the best in the ACC. We all saw Mike Brey’s squad last year just basically give up, and so it’s fun to see these kids continuing to give it their all, even when it more often than not will not be enough to win games.
- Markus Burton is a WARRIOR and he’s gotta be exhausted from being the only guy the offense turns to each game when they need scoring. But he’s so young and really seems to be learning how to balance shooting and trying to pass to open teammates. He’s going to be a menace by the time he’s an upperclassman.
- Kebba Njie is really starting to show some improvement, especially as he plays within himself and focuses on defense, rebounding, and put-backs. He’s never going to be the focal point of this offense, but if he can keep getting healthier and stronger and can develop a couple good low-post moves, I think he can be a key piece on a tournament team in a couple seasons.
- Tae Davis driving to the hoop needs to happen more, good things almost always happen and if anything they just need him doing that to keep the defense honest and to give Burton a break occasionally. Also, if Davis can learn to hit free throws at even a 70-75% clip, he will be VERY valuable as a scorer, because he can draw fouls.
- Little Shrews needs to focus on running off screens and being a spot-up shooter — he has a penchant for getting hot and knocking down some big shots, but is not a very good ball handler and can be streaky at times. He needs to watch some Reggie Miller tape and focus on being an awesome shooter off the bench and not try to force as much.
- Konieczny needs to stop trying so hard and also should not be allowed to dribble drive so much, especially into traffic. He plays out of control at times and instead needs to let the game come to him a bit. There are guys he can take off the bounce, but he’s also a good and tall shooter who should hunt his outside shot a bit more.
- Julian Roper II should play more — he’s a liability as a shooter/free throw shooter for sure, but otherwise I think he does some nice things and is one of the more dependable players on the team, just in terms of consistency.
- Carey Booth is such a wildcard, and I love it. I thinkit’s clear he WILL be good within a year or two, but he’s just not strong enough or experienced enough yet to be relied upon every game...however, the talent is clear and he may end up being the best of this bunch by the end of his career, besides maybe Burton (who seems destined to be an All-ACC guard for 2-3 years straight)
- Playing Duke tough and shutting down Kyle Filipowski (2-for-12 shooting, 7 points) is nothing to be upset about. There will be plenty more losses this year, both similar to this one and to the NC State one but also probably some more blowout losses. Still, I really like the early trajectory here from Shrews and his squad and do believe that next year they will compete to be a middle-of-the-pack ACC team and then in 2025-2026 we will be talking about competing for an ACC title again.