‘No last call tonight’: Mike Brey takes home win as Irish upset Pitt in final home game
Liam Coolican | Thursday, March 2, 2023
It didn’t matter that Notre Dame had won just two conference games all season. It didn’t matter that they were facing the top team in the ACC. For one magical night, the Irish delivered an inspired performance to send off Mike Brey and the six graduate students who have meant so much to this program in their final home game in South Bend.
As graduate student guard Cormac Ryan slammed home a fast break dunk to seal the Irish’s 88-81 upset victory over No. 25 Pittsburgh, and the final notes of the alma mater played, Brey pumped his fist towards the student section for the last time, as chants of “Brey, Brey, Brey,” rained down from the Leprechaun Legion.
The winningest head coach in Notre Dame men’s basketball history couldn’t go out without at least one more win at home. It wasn’t quite a sellout, but aside from a few scattered sections in the upper deck, the Irish faithful were out in full force to celebrate Brey’s 402nd and final game in South Bend on Wednesday.
“What an unbelievable night,” Brey said postgame. “It was neat to feel this atmosphere in here one last time.”
Behind a raucous student section waving numerous cutouts and posters of Brey, Pittsburgh missed 16 free throws in the contest – more than double Notre Dame’s margin of victory.
Without star freshman guard JJ Starling, the Irish opted to start five graduate students. The sixth, guard Robby Carmody, came off the bench for just his fifth game of the season.
It was the newcomer of the group — guard Marcus Hammond, a graduate transfer from Niagara — who got off to a hot start in the first half and never looked back. Hammond scored 13 first-half points, and he and Ryan each finished with 20 to lead all scorers in the contest.
It was a balanced scoring attack across the board for the Irish, as all five starters scored in double figures. Midway through the first half, Carmody checked in off the bench for only the fourth conference game of his career to loud “Robby, Robby” chants from the student section.
Carmody, who arrived in South Bend in 2018 with high expectations, never truly had a chance to contribute during his time with the Irish. One injury after another has hampered Carmody for five years, but on Wednesday, he was able to play meaningful minutes in his Senior Night game.
The Irish broke the game open in the final four minutes of the first half. Behind three-pointers from Hammond and graduate student guard Dane Goodwin, and an and-one from Ryan, Notre Dame closed the half on an 11-0 run to take a 42-28 lead into the locker room.
They kept their momentum coming out of the break, as a steal and slam from Ryan shortly after halftime gave the Irish a 17-point lead. It seemed like they were poised to put the Panthers away early, but they were never quite able to.
The Irish got in serious foul trouble midway through the second half. Goodwin and freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin both fouled out, in addition to two others who finished with four fouls. Goodwin — playing in his program-record 156th game —received a standing ovation as he stepped off the floor for the final time.
Perhaps it was the fact that Notre Dame has blown late leads so often this year, but even a 20-point second-half cushion didn’t feel secure Wednesday — and it almost wasn’t. With Goodwin and Lubin on the bench, the Panthers stormed back into the contest, at one point cutting the lead to five.
But the Irish were not going to blow the lead this time, not when the game meant so much to Brey and the team’s six graduate students.
“Most games, we were up at halftime,” Hammond said. “So [Brey] came in and said, ‘Not again, we’re not doing this again.’ They did go on a run, but we stopped them a little bit, and then got on our run, so he said he’s proud of us.”
Notre Dame, especially graduate student guard Trey Wertz, was poised at the line in the final few minutes, and when Ryan’s dunk put the Irish up by 11 and sealed the game, Purcell Pavilion erupted — and breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Robby was right beside me, if I knew that I would have dumped it off to him, he’s got way more bounce than I do even with no ACLs,” Ryan joked after the game.
Wednesday night’s performance — largely dominating a ranked team from start to finish — was how many expected the Irish would play this year. While the season hasn’t gone as hoped, perhaps, just maybe, there is one more chapter in Brey’s Notre Dame story.
“Call me crazy, but I feel the exact same way about this group that I did when I was talking to you guys in June,” Ryan told reporters postgame. “I wouldn’t want to play us in Greensboro.”
There was certainly one more chapter Wednesday night. Before he even began his postgame radio show on the court, Brey joked that he needed to put in an order for a cocktail at the Linebacker Lounge, where he headed for the first time in his 23 years in South Bend after the game.
“No last call tonight,” he told the bar upon arrival.