To quote the great Stone Cold Steve Austin, “OH HELL YEAH!” What a great basketball game between a team desperately trying to regain its identity (ND) and a team much better than its seed (Stone Cold). It’s safe to say that the Irish offense is clicking at the right time, partly due to the surprising emergence of Matt Farrell. The defense…we’ll touch on that below…but the Irish continue to get stops when they need them. What a game. In honor of Zach Auguste’s 21st double-double of the season, here are the 21 things to take away from the win that punched ND’s ticket to its second straight Sweet 16.
1. We’re going to remember the Rex Pflueger tip-in for a long, long time. Lost in the result was Auguste getting the initial rebound off the wild miss by Demetrius. Huge board, and a huge hustle play by Rex to get in position to win the game. Big time for the Connaughton clone.
2. Let’s take a look at the four pregame keys and how they played out:
*#1 – Stone Cold forced 22 turnovers against WVU in the 1st round, but the Irish only turned it over 13 times. While that is more than their season average, they are trending in the right direction after being extremely careless with the ball in their first three postseason games.
*#2 – ND got off to a very good start, getting a lead early, and thankfully not falling behind by double-digits. They had a lead at halftime for only the fifth time in the last 15 games, thanks to a VJ triple at the buzzer after a fantastic skip pass from Farrell.
*#3 – DJ and Stove shot a combined 9-19 and 4-8 from deep. This is progress, especially for DJ, as he was 6-8 from the field. I still think the outburst is coming for these two…
*#4 – SFA played small all game, and Auguste did a really nice job of finishing around the basket. 16 and 15 is pretty solid. Still, Bonz was not much of a factor as he only played 13 minutes. More on both bigs below.
3. A tale of two halves for Demetrius Jackson. He hit two triples in the first five minutes, which was a very good sign given his recent shooting struggles. Then, he didn’t take another shot the ENTIRE HALF. The Irish offense was darn good in the first half, but it was Farrell driving the bus, as DJ did not drive the lane in the first 15 minutes of the game. Then, aggressive Demetrius came out in the second half when the Irish needed it. The hammer around and over Walkup, multiple finishes at the rim after strong drives. That’s the Demetrius that makes this team really, really dangerous. We just need more of it.
4. Speaking of the Demetrius tomahawk slam…wow. Just, wow.
5. Let’s get to Matt Farrell. 31 minutes, 8 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers. No, those aren’t his cumulative numbers in ACC play. He was tremendous handling the ball in the 1st half, and he avoided the careless passes that he tried in the Michigan game. Farrell also hit a big jumper at the end of a shot clock during a stretch where ND’s offense was stagnant late in the 2nd half. Well done, Matt.
6. Auguste had a run in ACC play where he could simply not finish around the rim. Well, that’s in the past. 8-9 today, with his only miss on the putback attempt before Rex’s winner. He showed his athleticism multiple times, including the fast break layup on a full sprint and driving the entire lane with a nice handle for a layup. The guy has always had immense talent…and I’m happy for him that he appears to be realizing his potential.
7. 15 points and 7 rebounds for ND’s most consistent perimeter player in the past month. Beach had 11 first-half points to lead the Irish, and hit a couple big jumpers down the stretch. Verne after the 4-point play: “Beachem has one of the prettiest shots I think I have ever seen.” Verne has seen a lot of games. He also may have exaggerated a bit, although Beach’s stroke is quite silky. He’s going to be quite a player next year.
8. Vasturia continued to struggle as he missed multiple layups, was unable to slow down Walkup, and made some lazy passes that resulted in turnovers. Finished with 9 points on 3-11 shooting, and 5 assists. A matchup with Wisconsin may be just what he needs to snap out of his funk.
9. Bonz had a very good first half, with a couple buckets inside, including drawing Walkup’s second foul. We didn’t see much of him in the second half, except for a bad turnover when he tried to back Walkup down from half-court. He has a big game coming…I hope.
10. Notre Dame’s offense in the last seven minutes was tough to watch, even though they could not miss. That hardly makes sense, right? Here is a summary of the last few possessions after it was tied at 64 with 7 minutes to go in order to show you what I mean:
*Jackson holds 40 feet from the basket until 10 on the shot clock…drives and hits a 5-footer. Pretty shot.
*Beachem holds 40 feet from the basket until 10 on the shot clock…passes to Vasturia who dribbles near the half-court line for 5 seconds…passes to Farrell on the wing who shakes and bakes the defender for an 18-foot jumper as the shot clock expires.
*Farrell holds 40 feet from the basket until 15 on the shot clock, ball is knocked out of bounds…Auguste gets it at the top of the key, holds for 5 seconds, ball is knocked out of bounds…Jackson then hits a running layup as the shot clock expires.
*Vasturia dribbles it up, drives the lane with 15 on the shot clock, has Auguste wide open under the hoop, but shoots and gets swatted (leads to a transition 3 by Floyd to make it 73-70)
*Jackson gets double teamed when he crosses half-court…ball swings to Beachem and Walkup blocks a 3-point attempt. Beach then steps out of bounds going for the ball.
*Bonz gets the inbound pass…backs Walkup down from 40 feet…gets stripped when he attempts to make his move near the foul line.
*Jackson dribbles for 10 seconds, gets doubled…Farrell passes to Beach for another three…miss. Then Auguste makes a huge play to contest the rebound and steal it from Walkup. Demetrius scores immediately off the subsequent inbound pass.
*Steve dribbles it up…almost falls over…gets the ball to DJ, who drives with his left and draws a foul at the rim. Knocks both FTs down.
*Final possession discussed above.
11. Up 3 with 3 to play, Stone Cold completely switched up their offense to run clock and stop actually running plays. To get the lead, they confused the Irish with motion, leading to Floyd going unconscious. But then Underwood decided to have Walkup walk the ball up the court (pun intended), stand 40 feet from the basket, and drive the lane to take a contested 8-footer. Brey does this a lot too with a lead, and it drives me nuts.
12. We’ve touted Stone Cold for weeks here, and they really lived up to the hype. There is no way that team was a 14 seed. Thomas Walkup is a stud, and he may have a spot on an NBA bench next year.
13. To use a Brey-ism, the Jacks were “hard to guard.” The Irish got the stop they needed at the end of the game, but the defensive struggles continued. SFA’s 14 offensive rebounds were also concerning. One interesting note: Vasturia got beat by Walkup midway through the 2nd half for an easy layup, and Brey smartly put Rex on him. Rex immediately forced a tough shot and stole an entry pass in the next two possessions.
14. Matt Ryan played 4 minutes and did not attempt a shot. Still think he has a couple big ones left in him in Philadelphia.
15. ND playing Stone Cold brought out some great clips of the legend, Steve Austin.
16. Chris Christie was at the game cheering on the Irish, as his daughter is a manager for the team. Naturally, Brey had something funny to say:
17. Matt Farrell, not only looks like the younger brother of one of my buddies, but he was also hamming it up during Auguste’s postgame interview.
18. Irish shot 57.4% from the field in Brooklyn. That’s pretty good.
19. ND has now made back-to-back Sweet 16s for the first time since 1978-1979. While great for these guys, this is potentially huge for the program moving forward.
20. Six ACC teams made the Sweet 16, which not only is a record, but is also absurd. ND and Syracuse may have benefited from favorable draws (Syracuse especially), but 12-1 as a conference is fantastic. In comparison, the Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC have five teams left, combined.
21. On to Philly! The Irish get to wear the home whites again as Wisconsin knocked off Xavier. Game tips at 6:30 central time on Friday night. I’ll post a comprehensive preview on Wednesday, but let’s just say this: I’m extremely happy that we don’t have to play Xavier. The Irish aren’t done yet.