In what was as intense of a college basketball game as you will see, Notre Dame earned their second Thanksgiving week tournament championship in as many years as the Irish pulled off a dramatic comeback to defeat Wichita State 67-66 in the Maui Invitational Championship Game.
Senior Martin Geben hit two free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining to give the Irish their first lead since 4-2. Rex Pflueger stripped the ball from Landry Shamet as the clocked hit zero to prevent the Shockers from getting off a desperation heave.
Geben’s opportunity was made possible by a pair of game-changing plays defensively. First, after Bonzie Colson missed an opportunity to tie the game on a three, Matt Farrell intercepted Wichita State’s ensuing inbounds plays and dropped the ball off to Colson for an easy layup to cut the lead to one.
Then, after the Shockers missed the front end of the one-and-one, Farrell drove to the basket only to have his layup blocked. Pfleuger astutely entered the fray and managed to tie up Wichita State’s Shaq Morris. With the arrow pointing Notre Dame’s direction, the Irish had one more shot with 3.3 seconds remaining.
Brey called a timeout to draw up an inbounds play that utilized Colson and Farrell as decoys and Geben cut to the basket. The play worked perfectly and Pfleuger put the ball on the money, but Geben was fouled before he could dunk the ball home.
A career 63.8% free throw shooter, Geben used every part of the rim on his first attempt before the ball fell and confidently drained the second to propel the Irish to the win.
Notre Dame will undoubtedly enter this week’s top-10 and will have a week off before they face another stern test in Michigan State at East Lansing.
– Wichita State’s suffocating defense was similar to the style ND faced against West Virginia in last season’s NCAA Tournament. We all remember those results and through on half Wednesday, it looked like more of the same. The Irish were passive and seemed overwhelmed by the Shockers ball pressure.
– Even when the Irish found an open look, they were cold early from the outside.
– Notre Dame trailed by as many as 16 points and was slowly able to chip away at the Wichita State lead as the second half wore on.
– The Shockers were also hot from the outside for 30 minutes in Wednesday’s contest, but once the Irish switched to a 2-3 zone, Wichita State’s offense slowed down.
– In the zone, the Irish were able to force turnovers and the threes that were falling in the first half for the Shockers, were rimming out in the second half.
– After some early foul trouble, Geben provided a valuable big body defensively. Brey circled in Burns and Mooney, but it was apparent from the start that this game had to be one with experience and grit.
– Geben finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Wednesday was the second straight game that the senior was perfect from the field.
– This was a game that was going to be one with Brey riding his starting five. The Notre Dame bench contributed just four points (two from Harvey and Mooney) to the winning effort.
– Colson and Farrell brought their usual intensity that allowed the rest of their teammates to believe they could win even when the Shockers were building their double-digit lead.
– Colson tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds – his 27th career double-double.
– Farrell, who earned Tournament MVP honors, was rushed early by the Wichita State defense and committed some uncharacteristic turnovers and forced shots. The senior then settled down as the game went on and found his groove once he saw a few shots go in. Farrell recorded 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
– After 26 points against LSU, T.J. Gibbs struggled against the Shockers. The sophomore was 2-6 from the field with seven points and four assists, but banked in a critical three-point shot in the midst of the Irish comeback.
– In the final minutes, the Irish were able to cut the lead to one, but unable to get over the hump until the final seconds. Both teams were suffering from fatigue having played three games in three days, which caused some sloppy play. Whomever was going to win this game was going to have to gut it out.
– The Irish offense had its moments, but it was the defense that earned this victory. There were numerous trips where the Irish earned critical stops to keep themselves within striking distance.
– The perimeter defenders were able to mitigate Wichita State’s three-point threats and Geben and Colson held their own on the defensive glass, which could be a challenge in a zone against a long team like the Shockers.
– As mentioned above, this was an Elite Eight game in November. Rarely do you see so much emotion expelled at the end from both the winner and loser in a game before Thanksgiving, but this was as physical and intense as any college basketball game. There’s no doubt that Wichita State and Notre Dame are among the five best teams in the nation.
– Wednesday marked the first time the Irish had faced a top-10 team in November since ND defeated Kentucky in 2012.
– Does Brey go t-shirt and shorts next week in East Lansing? T’would be a power move.