Shots were falling short. Rebounds were hard to come by. They looked like a team that was crawling across the finish line.
Notre Dame dug down deep Tuesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, closing with a 12-2 run to win the Legends Classic over Northwestern, 70-66.
“Our experience with this nucleus of being in big games, tough games, and having to finish, there’s a group of guys out there that have done that a bunch,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“We certainly had to draw on all of that to escape.”
The Irish move to 5-0 while Northwestern, losers by a point earlier this week against Butler, fall to 3-2.
Notre Dame missed 16 of its first 24 shots in the second half and trailed 64-58 after the Wildcats completed a 10-0 run.
But the Irish regained their legs and poise, taking the lead back in the next three minutes and holding Northwestern scoreless over the final 1:02 and scoring the final five points.
Matt Farrell – 24 hours removed from a career-high 20 points in a victory over Colorado – drove to the basket with the Irish trailing by a point. His off-balanced, arching shot banked in and his foul shot gave the Irish a 68-66 lead with 14.7 seconds remaining.
After Bryant McIntosh missed from the short corner, Farrell grabbed the rebound and calmly sank both ends of the one-and-one with 3.6 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
“I was at the top of the key and I had a mismatch with a big on me,” Farrell said. “I just wanted to get in the lane and try to make a play. Just surreal in the moment and just trying to make a play. It ended up falling in.”
Farrell and Steve Vasturia each scored 18 points. Vasturia stuffed the stat sheet with 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range, 3-of-3 from the line, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals. Farrell posted six assists for the second straight night.
Bonzie Colson added 13 points and 11 rebounds and V.J. Beachem scored 11 on 3-of-11 shooting and just 1-4 from beyond the arc.
Scottie Lindsey paced the Wildcats with 17 points and Vic Law tallied 15.
The Irish won despite losing the rebound battle decisively, 37-26. The Irish claimed the turnover stat, 16-7, which proved crucial in the one-possession game down the stretch.
Notre Dame allowed three straight offensive rebounds before McIntosh’s driving basket with 1:02 remaining – just his third field goal on 18 attempts – gave Northwestern a 66-65 lead. After a Vasturia miss, Notre Dame fouled the Wildcats twice to get to six fouls in the half.
But a Nathan Taphorn turnover put the ball back into the hands of the Irish, and most importantly, Farrell, who took care of the rest.
“We’ve been in a lot of game situations,” Brey said. “We’re probably a little older and that helped us to escape tonight.”
Notre Dame led all but a few seconds in the first 32 minutes of the game.
An 11-0 run turned a two-point deficit into a 23-14 lead midway through the first half. A basket off the bench from Austin Torres and a Matt Ryan three-pointer launched the spurt, followed by two more threes from Vasturia and Beachem.
The Irish would take their largest lead of the half (32-21) between the seven-to-six-minute mark as Colson played facilitator for Beachem on an and-one and a Vasturia bucket.
As Notre Dame’s stamina dwindled, Northwestern heated up, led by Taphorn’s 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range. The Irish clamped down, holding the Wildcats to just two points over the final 6:16.
The Wildcats finished 12-of-22 from three-point range, including 7-of-11 in the second half. Lindsey and Law each connected three times from distance.
After converting 6-of-10 three-pointers in the first half, the Irish made just 2-of-8 after the break.
The Irish go into Thanksgiving break with a Saturday night home tilt against Chicago State.