Dec. 10, 2016
By Robby Hamman
NEWARK, N.J. -- In a matchup that featured two of the nation's final eight unbeaten teams heading into the weekend, Saturday's game between No. 23/22 Notre Dame (9-1) and No. 1/1 Villanova (10-0) lived up to the billing. Villanova, the reigning national champions, used a second-half comeback to stave off the upset from the Irish and win by a final of 74-66. The Wildcats received a career-performance from Josh Hart, who scored 37 points on 10-of-14 shooting while adding 11 rebounds.
Notre Dame was led by the guard combination of junior Matt Farrell and senior Steve Vasturia, who each scored 18 points in the contest. Junior forward Bonzie Colson also had a solid outing, scoring 11 points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Irish were locked in and ready to play from the opening tip, as Notre Dame never trailed in the first half against the Wildcats. The Irish built an 8-2 lead in the first 90 seconds of play and led by as many as 11 points at 35-24 with just under four minutes left in the first frame. Villanova cut Notre Dame's lead to just three off of two made free throws with four seconds left but Farrell went coast-to-coast to beat the halftime buzzer and put the Irish up by five at the half with the score 41-36.
After scoring 19 points in the first half to keep the Wildcats in the game, Josh Hart continued his strong play in the second. Notre Dame led by nine at 50-41 before Hart scored 14 of Villanova's next 18 points to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game. Notre Dame, however, refused to go away, as Vasturia hit a three to allow the Irish to retake the lead at 62-61 with 6:32 remaining.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame the Wildcats made just enough plays down the stretch to not allow the Irish to complete the upset. Notre Dame had a number of looks in the final two minutes to tie or take the lead but were unable to convert before Villanova made six free throws in the final minute to put the game away at 74-66.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Farrell was Notre Dame's top player on Saturday, as the junior tied for the team lead in scoring with 18 points while leading the Irish in assists with six. The Bridgewater, New Jersey native shot 8-of-13 from the field and added two rebounds and two steals to highlight his day. Farrell has now finished in double figures in seven of 10 games this season.
NOTRE DAME STAT OF THE GAME
Saturday's game was a homecoming for three Notre Dame players, as Farrell, Vasturia and freshman guard T.J. Gibbs each hail from the state of New Jersey. All three made an impact on the game, as the trio combined for 41 of Notre Dame's 66 points. Farrell and Vasturia each scored 18, while Gibbs added five in just 10 minutes of play. The three New Jersey natives also combined for 10 of the team's 16 assists.
NOTES OF THE GAME
- Notre Dame is 7-5 against the defending national champion under Brey.
- The Irish turned the ball over just nine times, marking the seventh time this season the team has kept its turnover total in single digits.
- Notre Dame falls to 17-19 against Villanova in the all-time series.
- The Irish have scored 40-plus points in the first half of nine of its 10 games this season and have held the lead at the intermission in all 10 outings.
- Notre Dame went 6-for-6 from the free throw line, marking the second time this season it has not recorded a miss from the charity stripe.
- With 18 points, Vasturia has now reached double figures in nine of 10 games, including seven straight.
- Farrell led the team in assists with six and has now dished out six or more assists in seven games this season.
The Irish face another ranked opponent at a neutral site on Saturday, Dec. 17, as Notre Dame takes on No. 18/19 Purdue in the Crossroads Classic held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Tip is set for 2 p.m. ET and the game will air on ESPN2.
Robby Hamman joined Fighting Irish Media as athletics communications assistant director in September 2016, coordinating efforts for the volleyball and men's lacrosse program. Hamman is a 2010 graduate of Bethel College, where he earned bachelor's degrees in sport management and business administration, and earned his master's degree in business administration from Defiance College in 2013.