Notre Dame fans weren’t too thrilled that Thursday’s 1st round win over Princeton came down to the buzzer and almost ended the Irish’s pursuit of a third straight Elite 8 berth before it began.
Notre Dame will go on to face the victor of No. 4 West Virginia and No. 13 Bucknell on Saturday.
The Irish treated this final, fateful defensive possession like any that had come before it. Coach Mike Brey stood stoic on the sideline, as if this was a November blowout and not the most important game of the year. He is 3-4 in those games.
No. 5 Virginia 76, No. 12 UNC-Wilmington 71: London Perrantes was clutch down the stretch for the Cavaliers and scored 24 points.
After a close first half and a slight six point halftime lead, Notre Dame opened up an 11-point lead in the second.
Chris Christie attended Princeton University’s NCAA tournament game, but wasn’t there to support his state’s Ivy League university. Looking back, this game could’ve been an easy win if the rest of team chose to contribute.
A critical juncture of the game came in midway portion of the first half.
“It’s March…that’s all you have to say”, said Farrell, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 from three) and was dying to say how angry he was with himself for not sealing the victory.
Spencer Weisz led the Tigers with 15 points. “I think they out toughed us in the second half” Weisz said.
“I knew I got hit, but I thought it was going to be a shiner”, Pflueger said.
Princeton would build some momentum heading into the break based once again on their three point attack. During most of the first half, whenever Colson had the ball in the paint, Princeton would send a second defender, leaving someone on Notre Dame wide open. Junior guard Matt Farrell poured in 16 points and senior guard Steve Vasturia added 10.
A close game in March with the season on the line? But the outside shooting of Koenig and inside play of Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ were too much for VT, which missed a couple of long-range shots late.
The Princeton Tigers can boast one edge over the Fighting Irish in their first-round matchup.
It wasn’t easy, but Florida State held off Florida Gulf Coast in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012. “At the end we started to get back to our old ways” Cook noted.
Instead, Vasturia grabbed the rebound, was fouled with 0.4 seconds remaining and hit one of two free throws, allowing the Fighting Irish to stick around for the weekend. Then the madness ensued.
FSU missed 15 free throws, and some of those misses helped FGCU hang around in a game that was controlled by the ‘Noles.
Princeton had one more shot, but missed a three-point attempt as time expired. Two of Notre Dame’s best shooters – Fort Wayne’s V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, both seniors – couldn’t find much of any rhythm at all.
One quick thought rolled through the head of Notre Dame sophomore guard Rex Pflueger as it was being tended to by medical personnel early Thursday afternoon.
There was very little celebration for the Irish after the win. Steven Cook added 11 and Myles Stephens chipped in with 10.
“That’s what we need to do for each other”. The Tigers defense kept them in this game, but the impressive comeback fell just short. “I’m all locked in and everything”, he said. “I’m sure he wore his Ivy League championship ring (from the early 1980s) today”. As the second-leading scorer for this team, disappearing isn’t something that can happen during the biggest games of the season.