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.
Next up for Notre Dame Basketball
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.