Irish to face Hawkeyes following triumph in Legends Classic tournament
Alex Carson | Tuesday, November 29, 2016
After a 3-0 week, a November tournament title and a 6-0 start, Notre Dame returns to the hardwood Tuesday night against a surprisingly familiar opponent: Iowa.
For the third time in four seasons, the Hawkeyes (3-3) and Irish will face off in the early stages of the season — Iowa took a 98-93 game Dec. 3, 2013, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, while Notre Dame was victorious last November at the AdvoCare Invitational. This week, it’s a chance for the Hawkeyes to make the trip to South Bend, and Irish head coach Mike Brey expects to share a laugh tomorrow with Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery.
“I am tired of Iowa, and he’s tired of Notre Dame, I’m sure,” Brey said. “We’ll laugh about it tomorrow night, but it’s funny.”
While it will be the first time McCaffery coaches the Hawkeyes in South Bend, he’s far from unfamiliar with Purcell Pavilion. He spent 11 years at Notre Dame as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator under Digger Phelps and John MacLeod.
“I think it’ll be neat to have Fran back here,” Brey said. “I’ve always thanked Fran over the years. First of all, we’re very good friends from back when he was an assistant here and I was at Duke. But, [I] always thanked him for the cupboard not being bare when I got here in 2000. A lot of young men that he recruited helped me get off to a good start, so I always thank him for that when we’re on the road in July.”
While the Hawkeyes have struggled early in the season, Brey said Tuesday’s showdown will be between two teams that can put up points, singling out Hawkeyes senior guard Peter Jok, who’s averaging 25.3 points per game, as a big threat.
“A heck of an offensive team — they’re really gifted offensively, they’ve got a guy who can get 50 on you in Jok,” Brey said. “It’s interesting, because I think it’s two good offensive teams going at each other, and I think those are the games in college basketball right now that are really fun to watch.”
Making a move
Iowa’s visit marks another opportunity for the Irish to get a resume-boosting win, just one week after the squad got two such victories over the at the Legends Classic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York — the site of last year’s opening-weekend NCAA tournament triumphs. There, the Irish downed Colorado 89-83 on Nov. 21, then beat Northwestern the next night, 70-66, to take the tournament title.
Notre Dame played from ahead in the tournament semifinal against Colorado (5-1), trailing for just 28 seconds in the game’s opening minute. The Irish hit the half-century mark before halftime, carrying a 15-point advantage into the break, but ultimately had to hang on to secure the win. Notre Dame nearly doomed itself with turnovers — the Buffaloes twice cut Notre Dame’s lead to four in the final minute — but the Irish closed out the game at the free-throw line, going 14-for-14 in the last two minutes to secure the victory.
The next night, the Irish again held the lion’s share of the lead, entering the half up 40-34 on Northwestern (5-2) after leading by double digits at one point in the opening 20 minutes. And while Notre Dame quickly stretched its advantage to 45-34, then 48-36, early in the second half, the Wildcats clawed back to take a lead, 61-58, with 6:44 to play.
The Irish later regained the lead, but with 39 seconds to play, Wildcats junior guard Bryant McIntosh put his team back ahead, 66-65, when he hit on the fourth shot of a 99-second Northwestern possession. When Irish senior guard Steve Vasturia missed with 23 seconds left, things looked bleak for Notre Dame. But the Irish still had fouls to give — and after giving a couple, Vasturia corralled a steal, then fed junior guard Matt Farrell, who drove the lane for an and-1 to give the Irish an improbable 68-66 lead. After a McIntosh miss, Farrell secured the win by hitting two free throws to bring the game to its 70-66 final score.
Behind 38 points in two outings, including the tournament-winning point, Farrell secured Legends Classic MVP honors. The point guard’s play isn’t surprising the Irish, said Brey.
“It’s not like we’re shocked,” Brey said. “I think his teammates and his coaches, we’ve seen this confidence growing since the run he helped us make in March. He had the team in the summer, it was his group to run, and I love his aggressiveness. I think he’s kind of finding a niche for us.”
Notre Dame then concluded its Thanksgiving break with a dominant 91-60 win over Chicago State on Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. Sophomore forward Matt Ryan’s hot hand led the Irish through the first half — he posted 20 first-half points off the bench on 6-for-8 shooting from three — as Notre Dame extended its best start since 2010.
“One of the things I talked to the group about when the week started, before we went to New York, was [that it was] a chance to make a move,” Brey said. “And they really did. … We’ve made a move, with what we did in New York and handling our business here.”