March 26, 2015

Irish NCAA Tournament Central

Irish in the 2015 NCAA Championships: The Notre Dame Men in Cleveland

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It’s rainy again (and later fog and snow flurries) and 34 degrees in Cleveland as the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team looks to its NCAA Midwest Regional matchup with Wichita State.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer notes-and-quotes piece on the Irish this morning begins with the headline, “Basketball is about family for Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant: NCAA Tournament 2015.” Grant notes that his grandmother works at Wichita State University and his mother is originally from Wichita.

Two weeks ago, it was designated ACC Legend honoree Troy Murphy who was in Greensboro and sat behind the Irish bench for ACC Tournament wins over Duke and North Carolina. Last week, Notre Dame hooked up with Pittsburgh product and former Irish star guard Dwight Clay at the Consol Energy Center for NCAA second- and third-round games. This week in Cleveland it’s Austin Carr’s turn. A member of the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Carr (the number one overall pick in the 1971 NBA Draft) played for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1971-80. He’s no stranger to the NCAA Championship since he still holds the all-time NCAA single-game record for points with 61 against Ohio University in a 1970 first-round game played in Dayton. The 1971 national college player of the year (AP and UPI) has continued to live in Cleveland, serves as the Cavs’ director of community relations and does analysis on the team’s televised games. His #34 Cleveland jersey has been retired, and his bobble-head remains available in the Cavaliers Team Shop. Carr, who texted condolences to Mike Brey on the loss of his mother Betty last Saturday, will not be at The Q Thursday night due to the Cavaliers’ road assignment-but he’s a host for a Prime Sports hospitality tent on Saturday prior to the regional championship game.

Despite the current presence of names such as LeBron James, the history of Cleveland sports includes its share of disappointments. The nearby CLE Clothing Co. sells books titled, “The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump,” “Surviving the Drought: Cleveland Sports Fans Since 1964” and “Why is Daddy Sad on Sunday: A coloring book depicting the most disappointing moments in Cleveland sports.” The Irish hope to change that karma tonight.

The team has breakfast at 10:30 a.m., then takes its bus at 11:15 a.m. to Quicken Loans Arena for a private hour-long shooting session that begins once the horn sounds at 11:45 a.m. The Irish stretch for 10 minutes prior to the official start of the hour, with the team’s portable speaker blasting sounds into the vacant arena. The players run through their offensive sets, emphasizing double-digit touches. Assistant coach Anthony Solomon instructs on defending Wichita State sets.

As Grant rests for a moment on the scorer’s table, Brey grabs a seat next to him and visits with him about family members in town for the games tonight. Brey kids Grant about serving as unofficial team D.J., since Grant’s phone provides the tunes. Bonzie Colson nails a half-court attempt to signify the end of the workout. The Irish finish with 10 minutes of shooting and walk off the court with 10 minutes remaining on the clock.

Mike Brey visits with current LSU athletics director and former Duke athletics director Joe Alleva, (he’s in Cleveland as a member of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee), and they discuss longtime former Duke athletics director Tom Butters.

The Irish pregame meal (mostly chicken, fish and pasta) comes at 3 p.m.. followed by a 5:30 p.m. bus ride to The Q.

The Irish band and cheerleaders gather in the Marriott lobby for their traditional send-off. Brey steps onto the bus at 5:24, and Zach Auguste leads the parade of players a few minutes later. The rain and snow has stopped but it’s still 34 degrees as the players navigate their way through a handful of autograph-seekers. “Let’s go Irish” is the cheer from the band members as the Irish pull away at 5:31. Two police cars with lights and sirens are a great help as the bus heads down St. Clair, takes a right through heavy traffic on 9th Street and requires only three minutes to arrive at The Q. Parking right across the street is going for $50. It’s been minor chaos as stoplights in downtown Cleveland have been out much of the day due to a reported underground electrical explosion at East 2nd Street.

The Irish group moves through security and is led together to the Notre Dame locker room. By 5:40 p.m. the music is cranked up and Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem are the first players to have their ankles taped by trainer Skip Meyer.

“Start getting ready now,” says Pat Connaughton.

Brey scans the scouting report in the small coaches’ room. Above the interior locker room is a three-dimensional unlit sign reading “ROOM IN USE.” Indeed.

Lady Gaga belts out “I’m on the edge of glory” in the arena.

6:07 p.m. – The Irish players begin to hit the floor five minutes in advance of their stretching routine with Tony Rolinski.

Irish keys tonight on defense are transition awareness, communicate ball-screen angles and team rebounding. The offensive versions are great decisions/triangle cuts/be receivers, probe early and ND tempo.

6:12 p.m. – The balls are available to the two teams. Pfarrell Williams’ “Happy” echoes in the arena.

6:15 p.m. – Brey and assistant Anthony Solomon are the only ones left in a quiet locker room as the Irish shoot on the court. The Shockers wear black T-shirts that show their logo and read “SHOCKERS PLAY ANGRY.”

For once the Irish will not be at a height disadvantage. In fact, the Notre Dame starters average two inches more than their Wichita State counterparts, with no Shocker regular taller than 6-7.

6:35 p.m. – Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., arrives amid lots of green in the Irish section across from the Notre Dame bench. Former Irish football coach Gerry Faust, who lives in Akron, is in the Notre Dame delegation.

6:38 p.m. – The Shockers have left the floor, so Connaughton heads to the other end to throw up a few extra threes.

Grant leaves the floor with a steel-like focus, oblivious to anyone around him.

6:45 p.m. – The Irish are back in the locker room for some final pregame instruction.

Says Brey, “I’m on the same kick. No one has played more hard games than us.

“No one has embraced playing hard games more than us.

“And no one has won more of those games and enjoyed it like us.”

He goes through the keys to the game, and by 6:57 his team is back on the floor for the National Anthem (by the Notre Dame band) with 12:00 on the clock.

7:15 p.m. – Auguste gets the first hoop of the night on a pass from Grant. Demetrius Jackson hits two threes and it’s 8-2 for Notre Dame, then 11-5 after a Connaughton three. Auguste flies uncontested down the lane for a dunk and it’s 15-5 after a Shocker air ball leading to the first media timeout. The Irish have hit six of their seven shots.

7:25 p.m. – Coming out of the timeout Auguste makes a move to the hoop and gets a three-point play.

7:28 p.m.Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem enter. The Shockers bring it back to 20-12.

7:32. p.m. – Colson’s shot is blocked at one end and he returns the favor at the other end on a VanVleet attempt, so it remains 20-12 at the second media timeout at the 10:54 mark. The Irish have hit only one of their last seven shots and have not scored for 2:41.

7:36 p.m.Steve Vasturia reverses his dribble, gets a layup and is fouled. 23-14 Irish.

7:40 p.m. – Wichita State crawls back within three, Grant is fouled-and he hits both free throws for a 25-20 edge at 8:37.

7:41 p.m. – At the 7:53 media stop, the Irish maintain their five-point edge despite connecting on only two of their last 10 shots (one of their last eight). The Shockers have made seven of 19 tries. Connaughton and Auguste both have seven points and Jackson has six.

7:45 pm. – It’s a fast half. The game is 30 minutes old and there are five minutes left in the opening period. Wichita State has hit only one of its last five shots, two of its last eight.

7:50 p.m. – At the last media break at 3:00, the Irish lead 31-25 in points and 15-14 in rebounds (six by Connaughton). Notre Dame has hit 12 of 24 shots, Wichita State nine of 24 (.375). Grant has four assists.

7:55 p.m. — Colson hits a pair and it’s 33-25. And the half ends 33-30. Both teams have 19 rebounds. The Irish shooting cools off and Notre Dame ends the half at only 40 percent (Grant is none for five). Brey’s squads had hit seven of its first eight and eight of its first 10.

Says Brey, “There’s only one stat I want to talk about. They scored 30 points and shot 35 percent from the floor. We’re doing the job there. Our offensive stuff will come. Let’s start the half the same way we started the game. Defense is how we win it. That’s how we’re 5-0 in the postseason.”

Says Connaughton, sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, “We’ve got 20 minutes to do some stuff we’ve been talking about since the start of the year.”

8:25 p.m. – The Irish start the half with the ball. VanVleet cuts it to a one-point margin, then Jackson answers. At 16:37 Wichita State takes its first lead at 38-37, the Irish call time and Colson reenters. That’s after Notre Dame twice led by 13 in the first half (18-5 and 20-7). Out of the timeout Grant drives, fires to Jackson and Jackson downs a three-and then does it again. Then Vasturia hits a three from the corner. Jackson has nailed four of five threes (six of eight overall) and has 16 points; Vasturia has 10.

8:35 p.m. – At the first media timeout at 14:26, Notre Dame leads 48-42. The Irish have hit six of eight shots this half, the Shockers five of eight.

8:40 p.m. – Grant gets his first hoop on a drive to the rim at 14:03 and it’s 50-42. Grant feed Connaughton for a layup and it’s 52-42. The Irish are on a 17-6 run since Brey called time.

8:45 p.m. – At the 11:33 media timeout Brey is jazzed after a huge rebound (and a foul on the Shockers) by Connaughton (his ninth). Notre Dame holds a 56-46 lead and has hit 10 of 12 shots this half. Grant feeds Auguste and it’s 60-48 under 10 minutes.

8:50 p.m. – Grant downs a three at the shot clock buzzer and it’s 63-54 with just over eight minutes left. Then Auguste makes it 65-54 at the rim–and follows with an amazing alley-oop hoop. Connaughton’s three forces the Shockers to call time and it’s 70-56 at the 6:18 mark. Grant has 10 assists. Notre Dame has hit 16 of 20 shots in the second half. Connaughton has 16 points (seven of 11 on field goals) and Auguste has 13.

8:55 p.m. – Out of the timeout Vasturia nails another three. He’s got 13 points. At 4:36 Jackson is fouled driving to the basket and hits both. It’s 75-56 Irish at the last media break with 3:58 remaining. The Irish are on runs of 10-0 and 15-2 and have hit five of their last six shots.

9:08 p.m. – At 1:26 Grant hits an amazing step-back two as the shot clock expires. It’s 77-63 Notre Dame. It ends 81-70. It’s the most points Wichita State has allowed all year in regulation. The Irish shoot 55.6 percent and hold the Shockers to three of 18 from long distance. Brey gets 20 from Jackson, 16 from Connaughton (plus 10 rebounds), 15 each from Auguste and Vasturia. Grant has nine points and 11 assists. The Irish connect on nine of 19 from the three-point line. They nail an amazingly proficient 18 of 24 shots after the break.

9:15 p.m. – Says Brey to his team in the locker room, “Wow, we defended. We really did a great job on the arc.

“And when we get into our offensive rhythm we are cruel–we put a dagger in them. You broke their spirit.

“But we’ve got more business to take care of.”

9:47 p.m. – With Brey, Grant, Connaughton and Jackson in the interview room, the locker room is packed with media. Everyone pauses at one point to watch the end of the North Carolina-Wisconsin game.

9:50 p.m. – Pizza arrives to a solid reception from the Irish players. With the Wisconsin win assured, the locker room television is switched to the Kentucky-West Virginia game.

10:15 p.m. – Back from the interview room, Brey holds court in the hallway: “To be one game away is awesome. This group deserves it. It’s good for college basketball.

“At our banquet last year, I said that in the history of our program, when we’ve been put on the mat, we’ve been pretty good.

“This is a great endorsement of our program. Our guys’ slogan has been ‘shirts and hats.’ They get a chance at that Saturday.

“I’m going to miss Pat Connaughton. Next to the word ‘stud’ in the dictionary is a picture of Pat Connaughton.”

Then Brey heads out to scout the second game-and the Irish leave at halftime of Kentucky-West Virginia to head back to the hotel.

There’s a winner and loser in every one of these games, but at least for now the Irish are on a rather nice roll.

It’s a reminder of the lyrics to the Billy Joel song “Summer, Highland Falls,” that go, “It’s either sadness or euphoria.”

There was a good share of the latter in the Notre Dame locker room tonight.

— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director