Senior Day is always an emotional and bittersweet event for athletes, coaches, family, and fans. Mix in a few more facts like that today’s match-up featured a #16 ranked team in Marquette, that the Irish are still trying to impress the NCAA selection committee, and that a win would almost guarantee a first round bye in the fast approaching Big East Tournament, and you kind of understand the feel of tip-off in
South Bend this afternoon.
Then the bottom fell out.
The collective breath of the Joyce Center crowd was held as the Golden Eagles jumped out to a strong start, opening up an 8-0 lead before marching to a student section-silencing 23-10 at the midway point of the first half behind the leadership and strong play of sophomore guard and Naismith Award finalist, Dominic James. James managed to spread the ball effectively and, with the two other Golden Eagle sophomore guards, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal, managed also to silence Notre Dame scorers.
As is often the case when the Irish falter, especially early, it was a Mike Brey timeout and excoriation, that righted the ship and brought about one of the most remarkable runs this season.
Behind the aggressive tandem play of freshmen Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson, about whom Irish beat writers have not been able to say enough this year, Notre Dame managed to take the game over, going on a 16-5 run late and closing out the half up a remarkable 42-36.
The game more closely resembled a heavyweight title fight early in the second half with both teams exchanging blows, the Irish led by whichever five were on the floor, and Marquette led by a visibly exhausted yet resolute James. Foul trouble largely stultified a Golden Eagle counter punch, as both McNeal and freshman Lazar Hayward found themselves at four early in the half. In addition, Notre Dame’s suffocating, wet blanket-like defense forced a series of turnovers and clearly frustrated both the MU scorers and their head coach Tom Crean.
The Irish managed to open up a series of ten, eleven, and twelve point leads behind the young Harangody, who finished the game with a career high 22 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out after slamming Jerel McNeal to the floor on a breakaway dunk at the 3:35 mark, and engaging junior forward Dan Fitzgerald in a shoving match in the final moments. I need to say it, I love this kid. Tory Jackson also had his best scoring game this season, finishing with 21 points.
The rough play seemed to frazzle Marquette and effectively ended any chance the Golden Eagles had of a late comeback run.
As the buzzer sounded on an outstanding 85-73 victory, Irish fans came to grips with the fact that we were saying a home goodbye to both Colin Falls and Russell Carter who came to the floor in the dying moments to resounding applause. Falls finished the game with 14 points, going 4 for 7 from three point range, and both tying and breaking the three point record in Big East play, breaking the previous number of 183. All before a very grateful crowd which included his ever-present parents.
An invite to the Tournament now seems a forgone conclusion with this very quality win added to the resume, no matter what happens next week at a slumping but dangerous Rutgers.
There couldn’t be a better way to say goodbye to Falls and Carter—well, except beating all comers—but as Coach Brey would say, one step at a time.