Notre Dame Basketball Survives Scare from Princeton

In what’s quickly become a March Madness tradition for Notre Dame basketball fans, the Irish emerged with a tense victory following a first round scrum. The 2017 edition of this phenomenon came against the Princeton Tigers, who nearly hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds that likely would have sent the Irish back to South Bend.

Fans of Mike Brey’s squad could be excused if a sense of déjà vu enveloped their churning stomachs, having endured last year’s first round roller coaster against Michigan that required a huge second half comeback. Thursday’s game was more reminiscent of two years ago, when Notre Dame’s 12-point lead over Northeastern nearly disappeared before a turnover put the game away.

On Thursday, Notre Dame had never been able to shake the Tigers over the first 39 minutes, but seemingly were in control by holding a 59-54 lead with 1:10 left. Princeton reduced that deficit by two 16 seconds later and then made it a one-point game with 19 seconds left after Matt Farrell had missed a potential clinching jumper 10 seconds earlier.

Following the Tigers’ second basket, Farrell was fouled and went to the line. The junior, who entered the game as an 81 percent foul shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one, with Princeton grabbing the rebound to possibly steal the victory. However, Devin Cannady’s three-point attempt with three seconds left was off and Steve Vasturia grabbed the rebound. Vasturia then made his first free throw before deliberately clanking the second to end the game.

While Vasturia’s miss can’t be held against him, Farrell’s errant toss was one six others that missed in 21 attempts at the line. That 14-for-21 performance was out of the ordinary for an Irish team that’s prided itself on success at the charity stripe all season. Bonzie Colson missed four of his 10 shots from the line, after an 80 percent success rate during the regular season.

Yet as has been shown all season, Notre Dame would not be advancing to the second round without Colson’s array of contributions. He led the team in scoring with 18 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out a pair of assists. On defense, he slapped away a pair of Princeton shots.

That defense kept the Tigers’ main weapon, the three-point shot, in check over the course of the game. Princeton managed to hit on just 26 percent of their 31 attempts, a drop of 12 percentage points from their regular season prowess from long range. Cannady had a rough afternoon in this department, hitting on only two of his 10 attempts, including the ill-fated last effort.

Farrell and Vasturia were the only other Irish players to score in double figures, collecting 16 and 10 respectively. Vasturia led the team with eight boards, while V.J. Beacham cleaned seven missed shots off the glass for Notre Dame.

The reward for this win is a date on Saturday against Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Irish can expect full-court pressure throughout the game against a team that saw double-digit leads twice evaporate before closing strong in an 86-80 win over Bucknell.

To win this matchup, Notre Dame will need to break the stifling West Viginia press or slow things down in order to find their way to San Jose next week.

Photo: © Mark Konezny // USA TODAY Sports

Irish Move On To Second Round of NCAAs With Victory Over Princeton

BUFFALO, New York - Notre Dame (26-9) defeated Princeton (23-7) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday afternoon by a final score of 60-58 in the KeyBank Center. The Irish have now won three consecutive first round games in the NCAA tournament and seven of their last nine games in the tourney.

Three Irish players finished in double figures in the points column. Junior forward Bonzie Colson led the way with 18 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Matt Farrell poured in 16 points and senior guard Steve Vasturia added 10.

How It Happened

The opening stages of the game were back and forth, as Princeton held a 17-15 lead with 11:24 remaining in the first half. Over the next four minutes Notre Dame scored 10 unanswered points to open up an eight point advantage at 25-17. The Irish took a six-point lead into the halftime break at 36-30. Colson led Notre Dame with 10 points while Farrell added eight.

Notre Dame opened the second stanza by scoring nine of the first 13 points out of the gate to push its lead to double figures for the first time of the game at 45-34 with under 14 minutes to play. The Tigers responded by cutting the lead to five points at 50-45 with 8:35 left in regulation off an and-one three from Devin Cannady. Princeton continued to chip away at the Irish lead, making it a one-possession game at 53-51 with just under five minutes remaining.

After a Princeton make made it a one point game, Colson scored four straight for the Irish to push the lead back up to five at 59-54 with 1:10 left on the clock. Princeton made one last run at the Irish, as Pete Miller tipped in a missed shot with 16 seconds left to trim the lead to one at 59-58. After Notre Dame missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the charity stripe the Tigers raced down the court and Cannady heaved a three in the final seconds. The shot was off and Vasturia came up with the rebound to secure the victory.

Notre Dame Player Of The Game

A day after earning high praise from head coach Mike Brey, Farrell backed it up with a remarkable all-around performance. The junior scored 16 points on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting, including a 3-for-5 effort from beyond the arc. Farrell also added four assists, four rebounds and two steals to complete his day.

Notre Dame Stat Of The Game

The Irish did a great job of minimizing mistakes on the offensive end, as Notre Dame finished with just six turnovers. The team has recorded fewer than 10 turnovers in nine consecutive games and 23 times this season.

Notre Dame Notes
  • The Irish have won seven games over the past three seasons, matching the record for the most over a four-year span.
  • Notre Dame now has an all-time NCAA tournament record of 39-38.
  • In the victory the 2016-17 senior class of Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Austin Torres posted its 97th career win, which is tied for the most in Notre Dame history over a four-year period (set by the 2012-13 senior class).
  • The Irish are 3-1 against Princeton in the all-time series and 1-0 against the Tigers in the NCAA tournament.
  • Notre Dame outrebounded Princeton 36-33 and improve to 14-1 when outrebounding the opposition this season.
  • Vasturia moves into a tie for second place for most games played for a career in Notre Dame all-time history with 136 games.
  • With a made three-point shot to score Notre Dame's first points of the game, Farrell extended his streak of consecutive games with a make from distance to 25 games. The streak is the second best streak of any ACC player this season.
  • Colson recorded his 33rd performance with 10-plus points during his junior campaign after scoring 18 points.
  • Farrell surpassed the 10-point mark for the 30th time this season with 16 points.
  • Vasturia posted a double-digit point total for the 26th time in 2017 with 10 points.

Up Next

The Irish will take on the winner of the West Virginia-Bucknell game in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The game will be played at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The start time and channel the game will be broadcast on are yet to be determined.

2017 NCAA Tournament: What We Learned - Notre Dame Survives Princeton

When the final horn sounded after Steve “White Steve” Vasturia’s missed free throw yesterday afternoon, neither teams’ fans felt any sense of joy or elation.

For Princeton Tigers supporters, the agony and disappointment of their underdog team coming up just a bit short (60 to 58) certainly stung as they wondered “what if?”

For Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans, a wave of relief washed over them after their team’s pitiful performance, and a seed of doubt was certainly planted as ND advanced to a likely 2nd-round matchup against 4-seed West Virginia (since then that matchup has been confirmed).

The Irish survived an impassioned Princeton comeback over the final 8 minutes of the game, as a 52-45 Notre Dame lead was slowly chipped down to 1 as the Tigers made play after play while their opponents made mistake after mistake.

So, what can we learn from Notre Dame just barely surviving a game in which the Ivy League champs really, for the most part, outplayed them? Let’s discuss.

This Notre Dame Team is Very Bad When Vasturia and Beachem Play Bad Basketball (Surprise, Surprise)
This really isn’t something we needed to experience firsthand to be able to identify as true, but when the two departing senior starters and captains play poorly, the team, too, plays poorly.

White Steve shot 3-of-12 from the floor with 10 points. VJ Beachem shot 1-of-9 with 2 points. That’s a combined 4-of-21 (19%) and 12 points from guys who average a combined 28.3 points per game and who shoot 44% from the field as a pair. To say they didn’t pull their weight in what could have been their final game in those gold uniforms is generous.

And then, if you want to look at other facets of the game, it doesn’t get much better. Besides Vasturia’s 8 rebounds, the two players played well below normal in every other respect as well.

Beachem had 6 rebounds, but the amount of rebounds he allowed Princeton to get while standing right under the hoop in great position to fight for them was frustrating. Meanwhile, the normally staunch defense of Vasturia was replaced by lots of getting beat to the hoop or overpowered by players who had no business doing so.

None of this is to say that Beachem and Vasturia contributed literally nothing to the game, but I am very confident in saying that they both played very bad games and it nearly cost the Irish their season. If these two don’t get it together by Saturday, there is no way Notre Dame is making another Sweet Sixteen this year.

Free Throws Are Becoming a Problem
I honestly never imagined I’d be saying this when the Irish were flirting with the all-time national free throw shooting record earlier in the season, but free throw shooting is a legitimate concern down the stretch for this team.

In the last 5 minutes of the Princeton game, the Irish could have really helped themselves extend the lead and put Princeton away by hitting foul shots. Instead, ND shot 60% (6-of-10) in the final 5 minutes, allowing Princeton to stick around and keep chipping away at the lead.

Matt Farrell’s miss on the front end of a one-and-one with 11 seconds left was particularly terrible, as it gave Princeton a very real opportunity to win the game.

Lucky for Notre Dame, Princeton’s Devin Cannady missed his potential game-winning deep three pointer with just seconds remaining, and ND escaped with a victory.

However, the Irish have shown the inability to knock down their free throws when trying to close out games, and eventually they’re going to run into a team who will make them pay and send them home.

Whatever ND did to build up their country-leading free throw percentage, they need to figure out how to channel that into late-game situations, when those free throws matter most and could mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Matt Ryan Deserves More Minutes
If you had told me this roughly 3 weeks ago, I would have laughed in your face, brushed it off as a joke, and thought nothing more of it. But after his coming-out party in the ACC Tournament against Florida State, Matt Ryan has shown a renewed confidence in his shot and the ability to make some plays to spark the offense off the bench.

Against Princeton yesterday, Ryan played just 9 minutes, but was able to score 6 first half points (2 two-point shots and 2-for-2 on free throws!!!) and snare 2 rebounds in that very limited time. In the second half, with Princeton hanging around and then making a slow, steady comeback, Mike Brey didn’t once turn to Ryan, even though the rest of the team shot 36% from deep and 39% overall and was desperate for someone to make some shots.

Now, I’m not arguing for Matt Ryan to play starter’s minutes or anything, but I think he could give this team 15+ minutes per game and provide a spark so that the offense doesn’t stagnate as it did for various stretches against Princeton.

BONUS: BONZIE is Still a God
For essentially the first time this season, we as fans saw BONZIE as human during the ACC Championship game when he rolled his ankle and proved to not be completely impervious to harm.

Watching him against Princeton, he clearly isn’t 100% because of that minor injury, but he powered through it to put up 18 and 7 and serve as the only saving grace for the Irish offense in the final quarter of the game.

Combined with Matt Farrell’s first half performance (he was not good in the 2nd half), Pflueger’s defense, and Matt Ryan’s 9 minutes of solid basketball, Notre Dame was able to endure a terrible overall team game and beat a solid-yet-unspectacular team, surviving and advancing (which at the end of the day, is all that matters).

Nevertheless, there are a lot of things the Irish can improve based on this one, and ND fans are certainly hopeful that they do, considering the high-octane, pressing defense that West Virginia will come out swinging with on Saturday.

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