March 8, 2018
By John Heisler
Notre Dame withstood an early first-half burst from Duke Thursday night, but it couldn’t handle another Blue Devil flurry to begin the second half.
A fabulous effort by Duke’s Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, Marvin Bagley III, saw the freshman make 15 of 23 shots (11 of 12 in the second half) on his way to 33 points and 17 rebounds.
That finally ended Notre Dame’s amazing run of success at the Barclays Center where Notre Dame had won nine of its previous 10 games.
Second-seeded and fifth-rated Duke prevailed 88-70 in a quarterfinal matchup of the ACC Championship in Brooklyn. It marked the fourth straight year the Irish and Blue Devils did battle in the ACC Championship.
Where Notre Dame goes from here is anyone’s guess after three games in three days.
The Irish made a gallant stand in Brooklyn, but whether Notre Dame’s overall 20-14 mark-much of it achieved without Bonzie Colson and sometimes Matt Farrell-won’t be known until Sunday night when postseason brackets are announced.
And so the waiting game begins.
“We can’t ease our way into this game. We’ve got to be ready right away, digging in and competing,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey (and former Duke assistant coach) before the first tipoff.
“If you have a good look against their zone, rise up and take it. We feel good offensively after that second half last night (50 points in the final 20 minutes versus Virginia Tech).”
Bagley had nine points in the first four minutes, and Duke knocked down 10 of its first 15 shots to take a 25-17 lead and force a Notre Dame timeout.
Duke senior Grayson Allen hit his first five shots, all threes, all in the first 10 minutes, as the Blue Devils connected on five of their first seven attempts from deep. The last of Allen’s threes gave Duke its largest first-half lead at 32-19.
From there, the Irish changed the tune. Notre Dame made six straight shots, the last of those by Colson to cut the deficit to 35-31 at 6:51. With Rex Pflueger shadowing Allen, Notre Dame’s defense caught fire and forced the Blue Devils to miss their last six shots and 10 of their last 11 (no Duke buckets in the final 4:05.)
After a slow start, Notre Dame actually outshot Duke in those first 20 minutes (.447 to .441). Farrell and Duke’s Trevon Duval both had seven first-half assists-while the two teams combined to miss eight of 12 free throws in that first half.
The Irish withstood that major early explosion by Duke to climb back within four at halftime (41-37), as Notre Dame played the opening half compiling 15 assists and only a single turnover.
Said Brey at the break, “Great half. All I know is we’re in a lot better shape than we were last night (when the Irish trailed 34-21), right? Great job attacking that thing. We’re doing a great job passing against that zone.
“We can’t force anything. The key, and why we made our run, was we defended the last five minutes. You’re going to have to keep blocking out.”
The Blue Devils went back to Bagley after the break and he got the first three Duke hoops in the second half (that gave him 16 points and 10 rebounds). The Irish had to call time at 51-41 (16:03 remaining) as Duke connected on five of its first six attempts after intermission.
Mike Krzyzewski’s team scored eight straight points as the Irish-after their nearly turnover-free first half-turned it over four times in a 3:55 span early in the second half.
Notre Dame, often making a living at free-throw line this season, didn’t hit its first until seven minutes into the second half.
Bagley scored 13 points (and grabbed five rebounds) in the first seven minutes of the second period. Duke, like in the first half, started hot, getting nine of its first 14 field-goal attempts to go go down.
The Blue Devils built their largest lead to that point at 66-52 midway through the second half. Bagley hit those 11 shots after the break, and he combined with his teammates to make good on 18 of 25 (.720) to begin the last half.
Farrell missed eight of his first nine shots (seven of eight from deep), as the Irish connected on only three of their first 18 threes. Duke’s 82-64 top lead of the night came after hitting eight field goals in a row.
Colson ended up with 18 points and nine rebounds. Martinas Geben had 14 and eight. Farrell had a tough night shooting (four of 13)-ending with 11 points and a career-high dozen assists.
The Blue Devils simply had too much firepower on this particular night-between Allen’s early spree and Bagley’s late run.
“We made a hell of a run up here,” Brey told his team. “We ran out of gas a little bit tonight. Duke really played great-they are a heck of a basketball team.
“We need to go back and get some rest. We’ve used a lot of juice. And we’ll see what happens with us. We gave the committee a heck of a resume–let them make the decision.
“I’m very proud of you. When you think about the run we made, being 3-7 in this league and losing seven in a row. We made one heck of a run to be part of the discussion. It’s all we could ask.
“It’s been an honor to be around a group like this and be around a senior class like this.
“I’m excited about the postseason because we’re healthier and a lot of you guys are feeling better.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen. All I know is I love working with this group. You are big-time Notre Dame men.”
Brey’s team ended up winning seven of its final 11 games-the only defeats coming against top-rated Virginia and fifth-ranked Duke, along with two other NCAA Tournament teams-North Carolina and Miami.
That’s more the sort of team Brey thought he would have all winter until Colson’s broken foot sidelined him most of January and February and Farrell missed another five contests with an ankle sprain.
How the NCAA selection committee assesses those injuries–and the fact the Irish are now back at full strength-will determine where Notre Dame will be assigned next.
For one, Krzyzewski suggested the Irish should make the NCAA bracket: “I hope they can get in because they can beat anybody. Mike has that team together all year? Forget it.”
Time will tell.