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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Three Things We Loved in the Mike Brey Era

A three-thing salute

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Do you want to read three observations about this very depressing Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball season? I thought not. So instead, given the news of Mike Brey’s impending resignation at the end of this season, I thought we’d take a loving look back at some of the best moments of Coach Brey’s long tenure at Notre Dame.

Brey’s departure is a necessity given the current state of the program, but we shouldn’t let that erase the good he did and the love we have for him as a coach, leader and man. With that in mind, let’s a look at my (subjectively determined and absolutely arguable, please put alternate suggestions in the comments) three favorite moments from men’s hoops under Mike Brey.

Down Goes #1

When: January 21, 2012

Where: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, IN

The first of two wins over #1 in Brey’s tenure, this one featured the Irish defeating the then-#1 Syracuse Orange, who were riding a 20-game win streak at the time. I’m giving this one the edge over the 2016 defeat of the #1 North Carolina Tar Heels because A) Syracuse was riding a 20-game win streak at the time, and B) it was a relatively unheralded Notre Dame team that got this one done, whereas the 2016 Irish were well known as a major threat to go deep in the Tourney.

It was the kind of win we saw time and again in the Brey era, as an underdog ND squad rode a raucous home crowd and played with remarkable confidence, seizing an early lead that they never relinquished. There was hot three-point shooting, with the Irish 50% from beyond the arc, and a dominant performance by a classic archetype of the Brey era, the lumbering-yet-somehow-also-athletic big man (in this case Jack Cooley, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds). This game just summed up so many of the best things about the Brey era, and is well worth revisiting.

Fun fact: Syracuse’s win streak going into this game tied the then-Big East record at 20 games. The previous team to accomplish this? The #4 2005 Boston College Eagles, whose streak was broken by none either than Notre Dame and Mike Brey.

Steal, Score, Steal Again

When: March 26, 2016

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

2016 was the second of two consecutive NCAA tournaments where the Irish made Elite-Eight runs, and this pair of seasons represents the pinnacle of tournament performance under Coach Brey - a time when the Irish were considered not only a fun, solid team, but a genuine championship threat. It was fitting, then, that Notre Dame’s final tournament win of this period should be mentioned here, especially since the hero was one of Brey’s most dynamic players: Demetrius Jackson.

The scene: odds aren’t looking great as Notre Dame is down by one against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Sweet 16 with 14 seconds left. The Badgers attempt an inbound, but a swarming Irish defense forces a loose ball and bam! In comes Jackson for a lightning-fast pickup and bucket. Two possessions later, after a stop and two V.J. Beachem free throws, Jackson’s ferocious defense forces a steal and two quick free throws to seal it, Irish to the Elite Eight. It was rare in the Brey era for one Irish player to completely take over a game, but Jackson was the show on that night in Philly, and it was glorious.

104-101 (5OT)

When: February 9, 2013

Where: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, IN

This one is personal to me, as I attended this game during my freshman year (I borrowed a ticket from a friend who stayed in to study, which he greatly regretted). So fair warning: this is going to be a long one.

A solid, but by no means elite #25 Notre Dame team took on the #11 Louisville Cardinals, who would go on to win the national championship. Pretty much everyone in Purcell thought this game was over when Louisville took an eight-point lead with 50 seconds left in the game. One man disagreed, and his name was Jerian Grant.

Having been held scoreless for the entire game up to this point, Grant suddenly became an unstoppable basketball terminator, ruthlessly scoring 12 points in 28 seconds without even a thought of passing the ball. Three incredibly athletic three-pointers were followed by an and-1 that sent the game to OT. It was a sudden outburst of pure, raging dominance that only cinema could equal. See: the following scene from Dodgeball:

The hilarious thing here is that after securing OT for the Irish, Grant fouled out in the first overtime, disappearing from the game as mysteriously as he had arrived. Both of Notre Dame’s starting big men (Cooley and Tom Knight) also fouled out, leaving the game in the hands of Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and most improbably, Garrick Sherman. Sherman, who was forced to play due to the aforementioned Cooley and Knight ejections, racked up 17 points - all in overtime. The Irish were clutch at the end of the OT periods on both sides of the ball, following a tying shot with a period-ending stop in three of the first four overtimes before finally finishing off the Cardinals in the fifth. I highly recommend you check out the highlights below because you really get a sense that the Irish were just never running out of energy and the longer it went on, the more their victory was assured.

As mentioned, I was at this game and despite my having been part of some truly electric football atmospheres as a student (Stanford 2012, Michigan 2014) this was probably the most fun I had at a sporting event in my four years. The insane, sudden joy caused by Grant’s heroics was followed by a house-party atmosphere where we truly did not want the game to end because being there was just so, so fun. Mike Brey gave us that night, and we decided to go down and thank him in person:

Yes that’s me to the left there, carrying no beard, a terrible haircut and about 20 extra pounds, but nonetheless without any cares in the world. It was quite the time to be alive.

There are too many more moments to share and so many more names I haven’t said yet (I’ll try to get some of them in so no one throws things at me: Troy Murphy, Luke Harangody, Ben Hansbrough, Bonzie Colson, Blake Wesley) but that’s the point - as bad as it is now, Brey has given us some great moments that we can still celebrate. Let’s salute a coach who gave us teams that played together with fire and confidence far above their physical potential, a home venue that regularly turned into a madhouse, and a team that (almost) always felt like it could beat any team on any given night. Put your favorite moments in the comments!