Irish fall at Louisville, will be No. 3 seed in ACC tournament
Alex Carson | Saturday, March 4, 2017
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Irish head coach Mike Brey loves to talk about getting three stops in a row — he calls them “kills.” And with his No. 19 Notre Dame squad trailing No. 8 Louisville 64-58 with 1:58 to play, it looked as if the Irish would need one to keep their ACC regular season title aspirations alive.
Junior guard Matt Farrell got them the first, picking up a steal before junior forward Martinas Geben slammed home a putback dunk to cut the deficit to four. Cardinals senior center Mangok Mathiang missed a jumper on the next possession, and when Farrell drove the lane for a bucket, the Irish had cut it to just two with 50 seconds left.
But Notre Dame just could not finish the kill.
Senior guard Steve Vasturia’s close out didn’t matter: Cardinals sophomore forward Deng Adel rose up to hit a 3-pointer, hitting the dagger to effectively seal Louisville’s 71-64 win Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.
“I loved where we were at,” Brey said. “We were playing around with zone, going big and that really helped us. I figured, ‘Let’s go zone, and I want somebody to hit a jump shot to beat us instead of a tip dunk or a drive.’ And he hit it. So you take your hat off to him.”
In a game where the lead changed 12 times, an undersized Notre Dame team got off to a solid start on the boards and the scoreboard — at the under-16 media timeout, the Irish (23-8, 12-6 ACC) led 7-4 and had grabbed eight of 12 rebounds. But as the half went on, Louisville (24-7, 12-6) started to get the expected benefits of its size: Mathiang scored 12 points and snagged five rebounds, as the Cardinals ended the half with a 22-15 edge on the boards.
Notre Dame held its lead until the closing minutes of the half, though, when sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell scored seven consecutive Louisville points to turn a 16-15 Cardinals deficit into a 22-20 lead. Louisville soon stretched that advantage out to six, but a quick flurry from the Irish — especially senior forward V.J. Beachem, who scored his only five points of the half in its final 90 seconds — cut the deficit to three, 30-27, at the break.
Notre Dame got hit hard on the boards in the second half, too, as Louisville finished with a 45-28 edge in the game. But the damage was especially brutal on the offensive glass: The Cardinals corralled 16 offensive boards, while the Irish secured just 19 defensive ones.
“It’s the $20 million question on who we are: Are we efficient enough with the small lineup and making enough shots that we can absorb offensive rebounds?” Brey said. “ … Tonight, we weren’t efficient enough offensively — what’d we score, 64? We couldn’t get efficient enough.”
But in that second half, the Cardinals got their key points through another weapon: the 3-pointer.
After the Irish raced out to start the second half on a 9-2 run, a Mitchell 3 gave the Cardinals the lead back, 37-36, with 15:36 left. After Beachem, who finished with 17, rattled off four straight points, junior guard Quentin Snider tied it back up with his first of four second-half 3-pointers.
Snider hit another 3 on the next Louisville possession, restoring the Cardinals’ lead, before hitting key buckets on consecutive possessions later in the half, taking Louisville’s lead to seven, then eight, with 4:30 left.
Over the next 3:53, Notre Dame methodically worked that Cardinals lead from eight, 61-53, to just two, at 64-62. That’s when Adel hit his 3, the biggest bucket of the game.
Vasturia converted two free throws at the other end, to cut the lead back to three with 25 seconds left, but Mitchell was a perfect 4-for-4 at the stripe the rest of the way, securing a double bye for the host Cardinals.
A win would have secured the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament for Notre Dame, but the Irish are the No. 3 seed in the tournament after North Carolina beat Duke on Saturday. Notre Dame will now play the winner of No. 6 seed Virginia and No. 11 Georgia Tech/No. 14 Pittsburgh on Thursday night in Brooklyn, New York.
A bright spot in the loss was Geben’s re-emergence. He got 10 minutes against Boston College on Wednesday, but the Lithuanian forward had been mostly phased out of Brey’s game plan over the last couple weeks. But he played a big part Saturday, grabbing a trio of key offensive boards and taking a charge in 16 minutes of action.
“I’m so pleased with Martin Geben right now,” Brey said. “Martin Geben started for us, then he DNP’d for a couple games. And in this atmosphere, against that front line, to do what he did — he’s playing better now than he did when he started, and it comes at a right time.”
Junior forward Bonzie Colson scored a joint-game-high 20 points (shared with Mitchell), but the Cardinals kept the 6-foot-5 forward mostly quiet on the boards, limiting him to just five rebounds.
Notre Dame will begin ACC tournament play Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Irish are 4-0 over the last 12 months in Brooklyn.