March 11, 2017
By John Heisler
There likely were a bunch of old-fangled Atlantic Coast Conference bluebloods who viewed Friday night's Duke-North Carolina rematch as the only men's basketball semifinal of the ACC Tournament that really counted.
And a few other confused fans may have thought Notre Dame-Florida State meant a football game.
But none of that counts or matters now, because third-seeded Notre Dame's 77-73 victory over the second-seeded Seminoles in the "other" semifinal in Brooklyn means that Saturday night becomes a "shirts and hats" opportunity for the Irish.
A crowd of 18,109 fans, most for a college hoops outing at the Barclays Center, came to watch Friday night.
The Irish put their perimeter attack into effect early. Notre Dame's first five field goals all were three-pointers--and by four different players. The first Irish two-point goal didn't come until Bonzie Colson notched one at the 9:21 mark for a 17-16 lead.
Notre Dame built multiple eight-point leads and finally forced Florida State to call a timeout at 4:39 with the Irish up 28-20 after hitting four of their last five shots. The lead went to nine on multiple occasions, as Colson went to work (11 points, all in the last nine minutes of the half) inside after the Seminole defensive focus was pulled to the three-point line.
Another Colson hoop, a Matt Farrell three, a Colson free toss and a Matt Ryan three pushed the score to 42-24 (part of 11 straight by the Irish) and forced another Florida State timeout at 1:29 until intermission.
Notre Dame hit its last four shots of the first half, finished at 16-for-31 shooting (eight of 15 from three) and limited the `Noles to 40.7 percent shooting and no threes (on seven tries) with 10 turnovers (to three for the Irish)
"Great job, great job. We kept it to one and done which is good and now they're having a hard time because they're chasing us offensively," said Brey at halftime in the locker room.
"Great shot every time and great transition decisions. They know they've got an NCAA bid, but how we start the second half is going to send a great message."
By the first media break of the second half the Seminoles already had committed three more turnovers (for 13 in the game) and trailed by 16. The `Noles didn't hit a three until 13:24 remained in the game.
Florida State knocked down 10 of its first 16 shots to open the second period, including all four of its three-pointers. By midway through the final half the `Noles on an 8-0 run cut the margin to 57-49. But Steve Vasturia and Rex Pflueger answered with threes from the same corner by the Notre Dame bench.
The action heated up significantly in the middle of the second half, as the teams combined to make 11 of 14 shots over one stretch.
The Irish missed a few free throws late, creating a few nervous moments--but even 60 percent second-half shooting by the `Noles was not enough to catch up. Plus, Leonard Hamilton's club did not help itself with 18 turnovers.
The Irish ultimately made enough shots and plays to hold off the Seminoles. Brey's crew finished 13 of 27 from the three-point line.
Colson and Vasturia each had 18 points, Farrell had 15 (and six assists) and Ryan's 11 offset only six by V.J. Beachem.
The Seminoles play lengthy and long, yet Brey's group survived a 41-23 rebound deficit.
"Big time," said Brey after the game. "Great job defensively.
"We answered every run with a big-time poised offensive possession.
"Let's get our rest, we know the routine. We're still here for business.
"Let's get refreshed and let it rip. We are going for it again tomorrow night."
The Irish have a chance for their second ACC crown in three years.
It won't be easy against Duke.
The Irish in two nights have rebounded against two teams that defeated them during the regular season and will have an opprtunity to do that again in the title game.
It might actually end up a matter of physical survival considering Notre Dame--in the late-game bracket--hasn't been arriving back at its midtown Manhattan hotel until way past midnight while the Blue Devils must muster enough energy to play their fourth game in four days.
But probably none of that will matter Saturday night, either.
Somebody will walk off the Barclays Center hardwood--which has been awfully kind to the Irish over the last year--with championship shirts and hats in their backpacks.
Notre Dame remains the new kid on the block in the league, but another title Saturday night would effectively change that notion.
Brey, who will be facing his old boss, Mike Krzyzewski, knows that as well as anyone.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com.