The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are heading home early this year from the NCAA Tournament as their dreams of being national champions came to an end Saturday afternoon thanks to an outstanding all around performance by the West Virginia Mountaineers.
“They’re really good, they’re really good, they got the look, they could play for a while” said Head Coach Mike Brey concluding the game.
Notre Dame was close to being a first round tournament exit on Thursday, after a sluggish performance against Princeton, only beating the Tigers by two points.
But if the past has told us anything, it was that first round matches have always been tough for the Irish. Even when the Irish narrowly lost to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight back in 2015, they were close to going home early on the first day.
After Thursday’s win and the then thought “tournament jitters” were gone, the Irish were expected to turn it up a notch with a more formidable opponent knocking at their door.
West Virginia proposed a tough matchup with their defensive intensity and their ability to alter offensive rhythm through their tight full court press.
Mike Brey Stated:
“Our start really hurt us, you know we were in a 10-0 hole and you’re kinda digging out against them the whole day, it was hard to get over it. Their style of play is really hard to deal with, I think you know it wore on us at times”.
Right out of the gate, Notre Dame was down 10-0 and only scored their first point four minutes into the game. Notre Dame looked like they underestimated the abilities of the Mountaineers and had a tough time breaking their press.
The Mountaineers forced 14 turnovers on the Irish, as Notre Dame constantly inbounded the ball to the corner, trapping themselves which led to bad passes. West Virginia constantly capitalized at every opportunity and at every offensive possession they had.
The Mountaineers had an outstanding shooting performance, making Notre Dame grind for every point while quickly increasing their lead with a quick score each possession.
“It’s really spirit breaking after a while and it does wear on our group. I give our guys credit, we kept fighting but eventually that does a lot of psychological damage” said Coach Mike Brey.
Notre Dame shot 40.7% from the field and 35.7% from three point range, which is not terrible, but compared to the Mountaineers, the Irish needed to make more of their shots to keep up.
West Virginia shot an impressive 50.0% from the field and 57.1% from three point range while also out rebounding the Irish 34-28 overall.
Notre Dame came as close as six points with three minutes left, but couldn’t make enough open looks to make a comeback. The Mountaineers eventually went on to win 83-71, putting an end to, what everyone should call, a successful Irish season despite their early exit.
One thing the Irish can really build on heading into next year is their free throw shooting. Notre Dame went a perfect 17 for 17 from the charity stripe Saturday afternoon and finished the regular season shooting 79.9% (a national best) and 81.6% during the post season.
Bonzie Colson led the Irish in scoring, recording 27 points and 8 rebounds, while Matt Farrell recorded eight points and six assists.
The decorated careers of Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem unfortunately came to a close early Saturday afternoon as Vasturia scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds while Beachem only scored nine points and could not get into a rhythm from the field. Beachem went 2 for 14 from the field, 1 for 9 from three point territory but a perfect 4 for 4 from the charity stripe.
Matt Ryan led the bench in scoring, recording eight points going 2 for 3 from beyond the arc.
While the loss yesterday will sting for a little, the Irish have a lot to be proud of this year with another NCAA Tournament appearance, an ACC championship appearance and finishing tied for second in the regular season in the toughest conference in college basketball.
Despite losing Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem, Bonzie Colson, and Matt Farrell will take charge of the Notre Dame squad with the help of Matt Ryan, TJ Gibbs and Rex Pflueger. The Fighting Irish will also be welcoming highly recruited shooting guard DJ Harvey to the family, who should contribute as soon as he steps on campus.
The Irish are in good hands and should see themselves back in the NCAA Tournament next season.
– R. Scarfone