Four chances. That’s how many times Notre Dame had a chance to take the lead in the final three minutes of Wednesday’s top-15, heavyweight bout between the 13th-ranked Irish and No. 6 Wichita State. With the Irish (6-0) trailing 62-61 with 3:04 to go, sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs missed a contested layup, and the Shockers (4-1) picked up the rebound. 0-for-1. Then, after a pair of defensive stops on the other end, Gibbs had another chance to put the Irish ahead with 1:50 to go. But he picked up an offensive foul, giving the ball back to the Shockers. 0-for-2. After another 1:35, it didn’t seem like the Irish would even have an opportunity for a third chance. Wichita State led 66-63 with 16 seconds left in the game — get the ball inbounds, and the Shockers would have an opportunity to close the game out. But senior guard Matt Farrell stole the pass and found senior forward Bonzie Colson, who scored to put the Irish back within one. “Just never give up. I saw him coming, and I just read it and tried to come from the backside and just tip it,” Farrell said of the play. “Bonzie was right there. It just worked out, and you just never give up and just got to play hard until the horn sounds.” So, after a foul on the next inbounded ball and subsequent missed free throw by the Shockers, the Irish had their third opportunity. They put the ball in Farrell’s hands this time, and he drove to the rim with just four seconds remaining — and was blocked by Shockers senior forward Zach Brown. 0-for-3. But the Irish weren’t out. Junior guard Rex Pflueger hustled for the loose ball and drew a jump ball with the possession arrow in Notre Dame’s favor, rewarding the Irish with one more opportunity. On the proceeding inbounds play, Pflueger found Martinas Geben on a late cut to the basket, and the senior forward drew a foul on his way up for the dunk. And the 60 percent foul shooter calmly hit both of his foul shots. 67-66, Notre Dame. 1-for-4. But that one conversion was all the Irish needed to win themselves the Maui Invitational crown. “We said we wanted to have our name up on this wall,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said after winning the crown. “We felt our program was one of those programs now that deserved to be on the Maui wall here, and I’m thrilled that it’ll be there.” Early in the game, it looked the Irish wouldn’t even be in the position to have four chances to take the final lead. In the first half, the Irish struggled to get into a rhythm offensively, shooting just 40.7 percent from the floor and a 1-for-5 mark from behind the 3-point line. In their previous two wins, the Irish made five and seven 3-point shots in the first half, respectively. But the Shockers defense played the Irish tough on the perimeter, forcing Notre Dame’s offense to score on tough shots in the paint and also forcing it into six turnovers. Wichita State’s offense, however, found its rhythm early. The Shockers shot 50 percent from the floor and were 5-of-11 from beyond the arc to build a 37-23 lead at the half. Senior guard Conner Frankamp led the way for the Shockers, scoring 12 points in the first half. He took a team-high seven shots in the half as well, as the Shockers’ weren’t able to get much from their usual go-to scorers — senior center and leading scorer Shaquille Morris played only eight minutes in the period after picking up two early fouls, while sophomore guard Landry Shamet was just 1-for-4 from the floor in the half. “Their [man-to-man] stuff is so downhill. It’s coming at you,” Brey said. “The first 20 minutes … we couldn’t deal with it, and we’re a pretty good defensive team I think. We just couldn’t deal with it.” But in the second half, the Irish played much more aggressively and efficiently on both ends. Offensively, the Irish shot 58 percent from the floor — including a 10-of-15 start — and got to the foul line 15 times, converting 13 of their shots there.
Defensively, the Irish switched to a two-three zone and held the Shockers to just 41 percent from the floor and 3-of-12 from 3.And while Colson and Farrell led the way for the Irish — Colson finished with game-highs 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Farrell added 15 points and three steals on his way to tournament MVP honors — it was neither of them who ended up hitting the two most important shots for the Irish on the night from the foul line. After a close, back-and-forth final four minutes of action, Brey went to Geben to score the go-ahead points. “We never ran that look out of it [before], we never run that,” Brey said of the inbounds play. “ … [Farrell] came off it first, he takes a lot of traffic. Then, [Colson] came off it. And the great thing, I kept telling them even though they were fired up, is ‘Don’t rush to it, let it develop.’ [Geben] did a great job diving hard, [Plueger] is great taking the ball out of bounds and I would’ve been shocked had [Geben] missed.” And when he delivered, the Irish were able to complete their comeback — leading in the game for only 22 seconds and winning by a one-point margin after trailing by as many as 16. “We got veteran guys,” Farrell said. “ … We’ve been in [similar] game situations before, we were confident when it got down to those last 20 seconds, and it’s just about making winning plays and trusting in each other.” Ahead of Wednesday’s battle with Wichita State, Notre Dame had to dispatch of Chaminade on Monday and LSU on Tuesday. Against the Silverswords (3-2), the Irish shot nearly 54 percent from the floor and forced 12 turnovers en route to an 83-56 win. And against the Tigers (3-2) in the semifinals, the Irish upped their play by knocking down 15 3-point field goals and holding the Tigers to just under 37 percent shooting from the floor to coast to a 92-53 win. “I wish I could bottle that for the rest of the season,” Brey said Tuesday of his team’s win over the Tigers. “We really played well on both ends of the floor. Our experience showed, and I’m just thrilled with our defense. … I think the difference with our group is how we’re playing defense.” And for one half of play Wednesday, the Irish were able to dip into that bottle again, allowing them to head into Thanksgiving as Maui Invitational champions. “We fight. We fight, and we give it our all every game,” Colson said after the win. “We give a lot of credit to Wichita State. They came out hitting shots, but we stayed composed and our talk in the locker room was phenomenal — everybody came together and said, ‘Hey, we got to pick things up,” and we did that. We just came out fighting. “ … We were hungry for this. We wanted another trophy in our locker room, and it’s great for our program.”