LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Notre Dame’s unlikely run for a share of first-place in the ACC regular season came to a close several hours in advance of the Duke-North Carolina finale as Louisville (24-7, 12-6) made key shot after key shot down the stretch to claim a 71-64 victory Saturday afternoon in the Yum! Center.
Notre Dame (23-7, 12-5) – winners of six games in a row coming into Saturday – now awaits the results of Miami at Florida State and Duke at North Carolina to determine their ACC tournament seeding.
• If Florida State and North Carolina win, the Irish are the No. 3 seed and play Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. ET.
• If Miami and North Carolina win, or if Miami and Duke win, Notre Dame is the No. 4 seed and plays at 2:00 p.m. ET Thursday.
• If Florida State and Duke win, the Irish finish fifth in the conference and open ACC tournament play Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Ultimately, it was too much Donovan Mitchell and too much Quentin Snider in the second half as Louisville connected on 6-of-13 three-pointers after the break.
Mitchell scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half. Snider, who managed just two points in the first half, scored 15 of his 17 in the second half. The dynamic backcourt duo combined to shoot 5-of-8 from three-point range over the final 20 minutes.
Deng Adel’s three-pointer with 36 seconds remaining gave the Cardinals a 67-62 lead that the Irish couldn’t overcome.
“A couple guys made big, big shots when they needed to,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “Adel’s three over a Steve Vasturia challenge was the difference.”
Notre Dame shot 24-of-58 from the field (41.4 percent) and 7-of-25 (28.0 percent) from three-point range.
“We gave ourselves a chance, but it was hard to score against Louisville’s defense,” Brey said. “It’s really hard to deal with their length.”
Bonzie Colson paced the Irish with 20 points while V.J. Beachem chipped in with 17 on 3-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Beachem also had a team-high eight rebounds while Colson finished with five.
Matt Farrell was Notre Dame’s third player in double figures with 11 points.
“We missed a lot of open looks in the first half,” said Farrell of Notre Dame’s 10-of-29 shooting in the first 20 minutes. “We were moving the ball well and were getting good looks, but Deng hit a big shot at the end.
“They hit some big shots, we hit some big shots, and unfortunately it went their way.”
Trailing by three at halftime, the Irish opened the second half with a 9-2 run. The lead exchanged hands repeatedly midway through the second half before a 10-2 run gave Louisville a 58-51 lead.
A Martinas Geben slam-dunk with 1:30 left cut the deficit to four, and a Farrell drive to the basket with 49.6 seconds remaining pulled the Irish to within two. But Deng’s three just 13 seconds later was the dagger that doomed the Irish.
Louisville held a decisive edge on the backboards, 44-27, including a 16-to-8 advantage on the offensive glass.
When Mitchell and Snider weren’t hitting from long distance, 6-foot-10 Mangok Mathiang was scoring 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting while grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. Most of his points were put-backs.
The Irish received a huge bump from seldom-used 6-foot-10 Geben, who logged just 55 minutes in the previous 10 games.
Geben, who scored six points with four rebounds in 10 minutes against Boston College three days earlier, played 16 minutes against the Cardinals, scoring four points with four rebounds, an assist, two steals and a charge taken.
His re-emergence was a huge boost for the Irish, who were fighting valiantly to combat Louisville’s size.
“I’m so pleased with Martin Geben,” Brey said. “In this atmosphere against that front line, for him to do what he did…He’s playing better now than he did when he started, and it comes at the right time.
“I’m looking at a positive coming out of here, even though we lost. We’ve got another big that can help us in the post-season.”
For Geben, his return to prominence in the Irish lineup begins with the basics.
“It’s always tough not playing, but I’ve tried to stay mentally ready and focused and trusting the plan the coach has for the team,” Geben said.
“Coach (Ryan) Humphrey said I needed to do more tangible things on the court that show up on the stat sheet. Playing hard is not always enough.
“Defend. First and foremost, be the anchor down low and defend. Offensively, be reliable for my teammates, whether it’s help side on ball screens or boxing out and rebounding.”
With several variables in play that will determine when and whom the Irish play in the ACC tournament, Brey is prepared to let the chips fall where they may. He’s done wringing his hands about seeding.
“If we’re the five-seed, we’ll just play Wednesday,” Brey said. “I’m tired of it. I don’t have the energy to root for anybody else. I’m going to root for my own guys.
“If it happens and we’re a (top four seed), great. It’s difficult to get to Saturday night if you don’t have the double-bye. That’s just the reality. But we’ll be ready to play whenever they ask us.”