Irish Swallow Bitter Pill Of Defeat

ND converted just 2-of-13 three-pointers in the second half and failed to build upon an eight-point lead as Blue Devils out-scored the Irish, 27-13, over final 11½ minutes.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Matt Farrell sat with his hands on his knees, head bowed, not even looking up to identify the interlopers milling about the Notre Dame locker room.

Bonzie Colson leaned back against the cubicle wall, right foot extended and elevated.

The agony – emotional and physical – ran the gamut and told the tale.

Leading 56-48 with 11½ minutes remaining, Notre Dame couldn’t get anything to fall, and then had difficulty stemming the tidal wave that was Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson.

Adding to the onslaught were the clutch three-point shots by Frank Jackson and Matt Jones, which also contributed to the 75-69 Duke victory over Notre Dame in the ACC Championships Saturday night at the Barclays Center.

The victory gave Duke its first conference championship in six years and denied Notre Dame its second in three attempts.

“I told our guys I think we got better up here,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey – always the optimist – in the face of the bitter defeat.

“We had two great wins up here. We’ve improved our NCAA tournament seed. I said, ‘Fellas, when the 68 teams flash up (on Selection Sunday), we’re the only team that’s been to back-to-back Elite Eights. That’s a great psychological advantage.

“We need a little rest. I hope we don’t play ‘til Friday. That would help but we’ll be ready to go in the next one.”

The “next one” will be the NCAA tournament, where the Irish have won six games the last two years after winning six in Brey’s first 14 years at Notre Dame combined.

COLSON THE MAGNIFICENT

The loss was tough to swallow on several fronts, including the disappointment of losing a game in which Colson – who finished with 29 points -- played like a man possessed.

Colson scored 15 points in the first half and another 14 in the second on 12-of-21 shooting. He took over the game, leading the charge during an 11-2 second-half run after his six points in the final 1:13 of the first half helped trim Duke’s nine-point lead to two.

“That’s one of the great performances in the championship game in the history of this league,” Brey said. “I’ve watched a lot of ACC championship games. He was willing us to that thing. Unbelievable.”

Colson admitted that he found a zone that the Blue Devils could not alter, at least until he took a tumble with 8:06 left that helped stall Notre Dame’s upset bid.

“Yeah, I was locked in, but everybody was locked in,” Colson said. “Everybody was playing well. They just hit big shots. We knew it was going to come down to game situations and they pulled it out.”

Both Brey and Colson said the right ankle injury would not be a major setback with the NCAA tournament five or six days away.

“His ankle will be fine,” Brey said. “Luckily it was more of a twist and not a sprain. He’ll be sore for a couple of days.”

“It’s fine,” Colson said. “Just twisted it. Just a little tweak.”

MISSED SHOTS EQUALS MISSED OPPORTUNITY

The emotional anguish was more painful than the physical, knowing that Duke had scored 27 of the final 40 points to pull out the victory.  Duke made 16-of-24 (66.7 percent) of its second-half shots.

Notre Dame (25-9) had the Blue Devils right where they wanted them with an opportunity to either expand the lead and/or stem the tide. Instead, after making 4-of-12 three-pointers in the first half, the Irish converted just 2-of-13 in the second half, which is no way to pull off the upset against the talented Blue Devils.

“I don’t know what we shot from three, but that’s how we play,” said Matt Farrell, who then learned the Irish shot just 6-of-25 (24.0 percent) from three-point range.

“We played well enough to win, but we’ve got to make our open looks. That’s who we are. They hit big shots; we missed some open ones.”

Brey knew when the tide turned that it would be difficult to prevent the wave from engulfing them.

“We got that thing up to six or eight and got some really clean looks,” Brey said. “We had them on their heels offensively and we’ve got to make a couple of those to win the game because they’re not going to miss.

“We had clean looks and when we missed about the third one, I’ve been in this game long enough that I’m like, ‘I don’t like this karma.’”

TOO MUCH TATUM

The missed jumpers led to fast breaks and, most importantly, closing shots around the bucket. Duke out-scored the Irish in the paint, 44-32, due largely to the explosive nature of Jayson Tatum (19 points, 7-of-11 shooting, eight rebounds) and Amile Jefferson (14 points, 7-of-8 shooting). Luke Kennard also tossed in 16 points.

“If he’s not the No. 1 pick (in the NBA draft), I’ve got to see the No. 1 pick,” said Brey of Tatum, a 6-foot-8 freshman who is expected to move on to the next level upon the conclusion of the NCAA tournament.

“He plays with the poise and pace of an older player. They’ve done a great job of bringing him along and putting him in great positions to be successful.

“He’s an amazingly gifted guy and he has a great demeanor. He just kind of stays calm and plays. You realize when you’re on the floor with him how big he is. His size is imposing and he gets up over the top of people.”

Notre Dame turned it over just six times to Duke’s 12, an advantage that led to a significant edge (20-to-5) in points off turnovers. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the irrepressible Duke talent when it bubbles to the top, especially when it bubbles up all at once.

TURN THE PAGE

Fortunately for Notre Dame, a quick trip home from New York, some much needed sleep/rest, and the rapid arrival of Selection Sunday will help turn the page after a few hours of anguish.

“Maybe the guy hurting the most is Matt Farrell,” Brey said. “We all wanted it, but he’s going to have the hardest time getting over it. Thank God the selection show is not long from now.”

“It’s tough,” Farrell said. “We’re going to have to have a quick turnaround. We’ll find out what seed we get tomorrow and we’ll obviously have a whole new season to go. We’ve got another opportunity to chase a championship.”

“It will be tough for all of us to take this one, but we’ve got to move on quick,” Colson said. “It’s part of the game. (Sunday) will be a big day for us. We’ve got a whole new opportunity to succeed and continue to be special.”

The Irish may have done enough by defeating Virginia and Florida State, and giving Duke a run for its money, to warrant a No. 4 seed.

Milwaukee -- one of eight regionals in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament -- might also be an advantageous location afforded a team as valiant as Notre Dame’s.

“This is a tough one to swallow, but we’ve got to do it,” Colson said. “We still have an opportunity to cut down some nets.”


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