Notre Dame wanted to put pressure on North Carolina to win the ACC regular-season finale Saturday night with the hope of staking a claim to a co-first place finish in the regular season.
At the least, the Irish wanted a No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament.
The Irish couldn’t come through, falling to Louisville, 71-64, before the Tar Heels made the point moot with a victory over Duke. Notre Dame will enter conference tournament play as the No. 3 seed Thursday, likely taking on No. 6 seed Virginia late Thursday night.
“That’s something we wanted to do,” said Bonzie Colson, who finished with 20 points and five rebounds and awaits Monday’s announcement of ACC Player of the Year.
“We had opportunities, but Louisville played great. They hit big shots when they needed to. It’s a tough one, but we’ve got to move on. Our focus is how to get better from here.”
Brooklyn’s Barclays Center – the host of this and next year’s ACC tournament -- brings back a lot of fond memories for the Irish. Notre Dame defeated Michigan and Stephen F. Austin last year at the Barclays Center to advance to the Sweet 16.
In November, the Irish participated in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center, knocking off Colorado and Northwestern.
“Our guys are excited for March,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “Brooklyn’s been good to us. We’re excited to go to Brooklyn and we’re excited that a week from now, we’ll show up on Selection Sunday.
“That makes a coach’s off-season really good. When you show up on that board on Sunday, your off-season is pretty good. You don’t show up on that board, it can be a tough off-season.”
The Irish will be making their seventh trip to the NCAA tournament in the last eight seasons. Notre Dame also has earned an ACC double-bye each of the past three seasons and six of the last eight dating back to its Big East days.
BEACHEM AND BROOKLYN
V.J. Beachem emerged as a go-to player for the Irish last year at this time, scoring 19 points and nailing four three-pointers in an overtime victory against Duke in the ACC tournament.
The Irish were sent to Brooklyn for the first and second round of the NCAA tournament. His 17.5 points per game against Michigan and Stephen F. Austin – including 12-of-28 from three-point range – earned him a spot on the East Regional all-tournament team. He was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from three-point against the Wolverines.
He then went on to score 19 points against Wisconsin to help the Irish advance to the Elite Eight.
Beachem also scored 17 points with seven rebounds in Notre Dame’s victory over Colorado in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in November.
“Definitely looking forward to going back there,” smiled Beachem after scoring 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, including 3-of-8 from three-point range against Louisville.
Brey is looking to push the Beachem button again. In the last 10 games of the regular season, Beachem has averaged 18.1 points per game while shooting a sizzling 40 percent (34-of-85) from three-point range.
“He’s been on a pretty good roll,” Brey said. “I hope he continues it (in Brooklyn).”
GEBEN BACK IN PLAY
It started with a six-point, four-rebound performance against Boston College three days earlier, and continued in Saturday’s loss at Louisville.
After starting the first 23 games of the 2016-17, 6-foot-10, 255-pound Martin Geben not only lost his spot in the starting lineup, but failed to log double-figure minutes in eight straight games, including back-to-back DNPs against N.C. State and Georgia Tech.
Against the Cardinals, Geben played 16 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing four rebounds, stealing two passes, dishing out an assist and absorbing a key charge taken.
“I’m so pleased with Martin Geben,” Brey said. “In this atmosphere against that front line, 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.”
It was Geben’s best performance since a 17-minute stint against Syracuse on Jan. 21 when he scored seven points on 5-of-6 shooting from the line with four rebounds.
Saturday, his rebound dunk with 1:30 remaining pulled the Irish to within four. He took a charge on Donovan Mitchell early in the second half after Notre Dame had forged a three-point lead.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Matt Farrell, who participated on an all-star team with Geben in Italy last August. “He played like he did when we went on our trip this summer.
“He played unbelievable today, which is huge going forward. We’re going to need all the big bodies for the post-season. If he can do what he did today and we can rebound like that, we can be a special team.”
Farrell knows what’s been holding Geben back in recent weeks.
“Confidence,” Farrell said. “He’s really talented. Trust me, I saw it when we went (to Italy). He’s really talented and he’s just got to play with more confidence.
“He’s a really big kid and he’s really good at this game. I’m always in his ear to not get frustrated and to keep doing what he did today.”
Bonzie Colson certainly welcomes the help up front. Without another big on the court – the Irish have emphasized a smaller five-out lineup – it’s often Colson against the world on the boards.
“His mind’s been great this whole season, and we’re going to need him to produce like he did today,” Colson said. “I’m there for him to keep giving him confidence.”
Geben said he understands his role, but he played so tentatively throughout most of February that Brey had no choice but to limit his minutes.
“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.”
Brey playfully said he’s avoided talking to Geben. Or was he serious?
“I haven’t talked to him for two weeks,” said Brey with a hint of a smile. “I’m just cold-shouldering him. I haven’t even looked at him.
“Today, I told him, ‘Great, you’re back, we need you.’ Now I’m not going to talk to him until we play. Sometimes tough love helps.”