December 17, 2017
By John Heisler
One year soon the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team may hook up with Santa Claus when the Irish make their annual pre-holiday stop in Indianapolis for the fan-friendly Crossroads Classic doubleheader that features the Irish, Indiana, Purdue and Butler.
But the meeting did not happen Saturday afternoon. The only gift Santa provided was left at the doorstep of the Hoosiers who somehow outlasted the Irish 80-77 in overtime in front of a capacity crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that included former Notre Dame players Chris Thomas, Luke Zeller, Joe Fredrick and Kevin Hawkins.
For Irish coach Mike Brey’s roster, the game served as a textbook example of why a 40-minute effort (and sometimes 45) is required to win in major-college basketball.
Brey’s Irish played lights out over significant stretches against the Hoosiers while leading the game for nearly 34 minutes:
–In the first half, Notre Dame broke out of a two-point deficit seven and a half minutes in with an impressive 10-0 run (and a 19-3 overall stretch outscoring Indiana) while Brey’s defense forced the Hoosiers into a one-for-12 shooting slump. T.J. Gibb’s three-pointer made it 28-14 for the Irish, forcing Indiana to call a timeout with 5:13 until intermission.
–After the Hoosiers worked their way back to a one-point deficit a minute into the second half, the Irish went on a 12-1 run over a 1:54 span by hitting five straight shots. When Indiana came within 51-49 at the 10:16 stop, Notre Dame built back the advantage again. Gibbs knocked down a pair of free throws at the 7:15 mark and followed with a three-point goal at 5:48 for a 59-50 Irish lead.
–After junior forward Juwan Morgan gave Indiana an early lead in overtime, Notre Dame twice built four-point leads on Bonzie Colson free throws and then on a Colson bucket. In bizarre fashion, the Irish were done in by a missed free throw by Indiana that turned into what became the game-winning basket.
This game became a showcase for Morgan (career-high 34 points, career high-tying 11 rebounds) and Colson (season-high 29 points, 11 rebounds).
Morgan scored 26 points in the second half and overtime, making nine of 10 field-goal attempts. He scored the final 12 points by Indiana in regulation in the last 3:29.
Colson made 11 of his 13 free-throws attempts, seven more free throws than any other Irish player. His 11 rebounds were more than twice as many as any other Notre Dame player corralled. He did all that despite near-constant double teams by the Indiana defense.
Brey knew his Irish needed to find a way to hold their own on the boards (they generally did that with Indiana holding only a 20-17 edge in that statistic in the second half and overtime). He noted after the game that he thought if his team could keep the Hoosiers from excelling beyond the three-point line Indiana simply might not be able to score enough points to win the game. Both teams started one for nine from beyond the arc.
The Irish also thought their track record to date in 2017-18 suggested they were more capable than Indiana of playing 40 minutes at a high-enough level. Brey’s club already had been tested with tough assignments in Maui, at Michigan State and in early season road assignments at DePaul and Delaware.
“Way to defend,” noted Brey to his squad at halftime. “They’ve got 25 points and way to keep them to one and done for the most part. Guys off the bench gave us great contributions again (nine combined first-half points from Nikola Djogo, John Mooney and D.J. Harvey, including key three-pointers from Djogo and Mooney). Be ready to go another 20 minutes. Way to move them around, we opened the floor a little bit. Just don’t settle for jumps shots, keep driving it.”
The Irish proved efficient at the free-throw stripe, making 14 of 17 after intermission (Indiana was 16 of 22 in that same category).
Senior guard Matt Farrell did not have his greatest shooting day (five of 14), yet his eight assists and a dozen points in the second half and overtime gave the Irish a chance.
Even with all the defensive harassment he encountered, Colson made a living at the free-throw line on his way to those 29 points.
The Irish turned it over only twice in the first half and seven times fewer than Indiana overall.
It was a contest in which one more play, one more key momentum swing, one more rebound might have swung the pendulum Notre Dame’s way.
Coming out of final exams last week, the Irish had hoped to gift-wrap their holiday run-up to Atlantic Coast Conference play that begins in 13 days by putting a bow on a victory over the Hoosiers.
Somewhere along the way Santa misplaced his MapQuest directions.