BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The stereotype forms quickly.
Little, gritty, hard-nosed, take-no-crap-from-anybody kind of player.
You don’t think I can do it? Watch me. Are you doubting me? I’ll show you. Nervous? I’ve got this.
Matt Farrell strikes a pose and then lives up to it. He emerged as a first-time starter this past Friday when head coach Mike Brey tabbed him in the NCAA tournament against Michigan.
Farrell scored five points and handed our four assists in 22 minutes of action as the Irish prevailed over the Wolverines. Two days later, making his second start against No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin, Farrell hit a couple of first-half jumpers and free throws, and a critical shot-clock-beating 17-footer with 5:22 left in the game to give the Irish a two-point lead.
Notre Dame eventually claimed a dramatic one-point victory over Stephen F. Austin on a tip-in by Rex Pflueger with 1.5 seconds remaining to advance to the Sweet 16.
“Awesome experience,” summarized Farrell of his weekend in Brooklyn where he scored 13 points (eight vs. SFA) with four assists in each game (and five turnovers combined) in 53 minutes of action.
“I had a lot of confidence with these teammates around me all year. Having the right attitude is something special for me. I have the confidence to be ready whenever my number is called.”
Farrell, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder out of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., was a late addition to the Irish recruiting class a couple of years ago. He played just 15 games/62 minutes as a freshman. Although his playing time quadrupled during the 2015-16 regular season, he still had difficulty finding his way on the court.
Farrell’s main impediment – junior Demetrius Jackson – has been floated as a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft, certainly a first-rounder at worst.
After leading the Irish to a non-conference road victory over Illinois on Dec. 2 when he scored a career-high 10 points in 23 minutes of action, Farrell’s playing time quickly dwindled.
By the start of the ACC schedule in January, Farrell had become a fixture on the bench. During a 17-game, he logged just 45 minutes and never left the bench in six of those games.
But when Notre Dame’s offense became stagnant in a 21-point road loss to Florida State and an 18-point pasting at home by Miami, Brey knew he needed to do something to spice up the attack heading into post-season play.
Foremost on his mind was a) putting Jackson in a position to do more away from the basketball and b) inserting a player who could run the offense comparably to Jackson.
Pflueger has point-guard characteristics and shooting guard Steve Vasturia can handle the basketball. But neither could do what Brey was looking for from Farrell.
“We dusted him off after losing to Florida State and Miami badly,” Brey said. “We put him in there against N.C. State. We wanted to play faster and we needed another handler on the floor.
“We felt it would help Demetrius. (Jackson) wouldn’t have to bring it up into the teeth of people all the time. It really played out well against N.C. State.”
When the Irish fell behind by 16 to Duke in the ACC tournament, Brey needed offensive firepower, and Farrell remained on the bench. When the semifinal game of the ACC tournament got out of hand against North Carolina, Farrell logged 16 minutes against the Tar Heels.
“Against North Carolina, I put him in a lot in the second half because I figured moving forward, we were going to need him again,” Brey said.
Need him? Brey started him against Michigan’s guard-oriented offense. Farrell turned it over three times in 22 minutes. But he also hit a three-pointer, scored five points and handed out four assists.
Farrell, also a good matchup against Stephen F. Austin, logged 31 minutes, scoring six points in the first half and that critical, shot-clock beater with under six minutes left.
“The shot clock was running down,” Farrell said. “I heard somebody yelling, so I tried to get into my pull-up, trying to get more lift on my shot.
“That’s a shot I’ve been taking a long time now, and like I said, the confidence that my teammates have in me and my confidence in myself…I heard shoot it so I shot it.”
Farrell bemoaned his turnovers after each game in Brooklyn.
“We’ve got to get better at turnovers, especially myself,” said Farrell as the Irish coughed it up four times in the first half and nine in the second half against a team averaging 18 forced per game.
“But that’s a good team. We knew we were going to turn the ball over. We didn’t want to get too many. The second half was like a track meet. That’s why the turnovers happened. We’ll keep harping on that.”
And Brey will continue to look for spots to insert Farrell.
“He had eight assists here,” Brey said. “We’re going to need him moving forward.”