Irish come up short down stretch, fall to Hurricanes
Benjamin Padanilam | Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Prior to Monday night’s tipoff against Miami (FL), Notre Dame found out it would be getting Bonzie Colson back very soon. The All-American and senior forward was dressed for action, and it was announced that he would be expected to make his return for Senior Night on Feb. 28 against Pittsburgh.
It seemed like that piece of good news might just be what the Irish needed to light a fire under themselves for a late-season run and chance at a postseason berth in the NCAA tournament.
But that fire was dimmed a little when the Irish (16-12, 6-9 ACC) learned junior guard Rex Pflueger would be unable to dress against the Hurricanes (19-8, 8-7) after injuring his back in Saturday’s win at Boston College.
And that fire was potentially put out for good by the end of Monday’s game, as the Hurricanes responded to every hot stretch of play by the Irish and ultimately found their last wind to sail past Notre Dame for a 77-74 win.
“This one sucks,” Irish senior guard Matt Farrell said about the loss, perhaps summing up the feeling in the player’s lounge after the game best. “This one’s going to hurt all week.”
After trading 9-0 runs early in the half and seeing the lead change nine times throughout the first period, the Hurricanes eventually settled in and took a nine-point cushion into the locker room at halftime, leading 38-29. Aside from a stretch of nearly six minutes in which it went scoreless, Miami consistently found success on the offensive end — the Hurricanes shot 15-of-28 in the half from the floor, including a 5-of-9 mark from beyond the arc.
“Every time we went zone, they hit a couple threes, and they you go back to man and they’re getting put backs,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “ … We couldn’t defend them like we’ve been defending, and it was a little frustrating on all fronts. And I think a lot of that reason is they’ve got a lot of athletic ability and they’ve got some playmaking guys.”
Yet, when the Irish came out in the second half, it seemed as though they might just find a way to weather the storm for the victory. After a first half that saw Farrell, senior forward Martinas Geben and graduate student forward Austin Torres combine to go 11-of-15 from the floor while the rest of the team managed just an 0-for-10 mark, the Irish collectively picked it up offensively in the second half. The shot 60.7 percent from the floor, with all five starters — Geben, Farrell, sophomore forward John Mooney and sophomore guards T.J. Gibbs and Nikola Djogo — scoring at least six points in the period.
And that offensive success translated on the scoreboard, as a 10-point Miami lead with 16:24 left in the game turned into a 62-57 advantage for Notre Dame with 7:51 on the clock.
But Lonnie Walker IV and the Hurricanes stormed right back, as Miami’s freshman guard hit a pair of back-breaking jumpers down the stretch on his way to a game-high 19 points, while junior center Ebuka Izundu added 12 points and four offensive boards in the second half alone to ice out any chance of an Irish win.
“We gave ourselves a chance, but sometimes you got to take your hat off to the other team,” Brey said. “I though Walker’s shots were back-breakers, and they were pretty tough shots. … So disappointing, because we really wanted to try and see if we could go 2-0 on a Saturday-Monday, but [we] couldn’t get it. And I thought Miami played brilliantly — they’re a really gifted team.”
“They hit big shots, they hit tough shots that were big shots, and we were there in the end — and it’s been that way all year, and we just can’t finish it,” Farrell said. “And it’s a terrible feeling.”
Now at 6-9 in ACC play, the Irish have a tough road ahead of them between their final three regular season games and the ACC tournament if they want to potentially sneak their way into the NCAA tournament. While the Irish will be getting some key reinforcements down the stretch — Brey confirmed after the game that Pflueger would return Saturday against Wake Forest, while Colson will pick up the work in practice to get him back by Senior Night — they will be without freshman wing D.J. Harvey, as Brey ruled him out for the remainder of the season.
But Notre Dame will keep it business as usual, taking it one game at a time down the stretch.
“We know we have three regular-season games left [and] one more guaranteed game in the ACC tournament, so time’s very limited for Torres, Matt, Bonzie and the rest of the guys in the locker room,” Geben said. “I know we’re very fired up to make the most out of it.
“And we just need everybody else to be fired up for us as well.”