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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame blows out Hampton in first round of NIT

Tuesday night saw the Irish face a very different challenge than the ones they have in the past few weeks.

Last week, Notre Dame had to contend with Duke freshman forward Marvin Bagley III and a 21-point deficit to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament.

The challenge on Tuesday night? Getting over not making the NCAA tournament and playing with energy.

In the first game of the NIT, the top-seeded Irish (21-14, 8-10 ACC) were able to stay focused, knocking off No. 8 seed Hampton by a score of 84-63.

Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish senior forward Martinas Geben goes up over a Hampton defender in Notre Dame's 84-63 win over the Pirates in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

“You have to start somewhere in this tournament,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I thought we were excited to play and got over not making the NCAA tournament.”

Brey said the win helps get the Irish into a mindset where they feel like they’re in the thick of the tournament.

“You kind of feel you’re in the tournament now. We can look around at the bracket now,” Brey said. “You can start to see that route to get back to New York. I told them, ‘One down, two to go to get to the Garden.’

“They have handled the disappointment of Sunday very well over the last two days to be prepared and excited to play again tonight.”

Even with the lingering disappointment of missing out on the Big Dance, senior guard and captain Matt Farrell said it felt good to be out on the floor.

“It feels good; it’s fun,” Farrell said. “We’re having fun with each other. We’re not going to take it for granted; we’re just going to enjoy playing together.”

The game opened at a pedestrian pace, with the score sitting at 10-8 in favor of Notre Dame at the under-five minute timeout in the first quarter, with senior forward Martinas Geben piling in six early points.

The Irish opened up a sizeable lead near the end of the first quarter thanks to a missed alley-oop to Geben which led to a three-point play for senior forward Bonzie Colson. On the next Irish possession, Farrell found Geben on a cross-court pass for another three-point play. Notre Dame led 23-16 after one quarter.

The Irish extended the lead in the second quarter thanks to sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs shooting 2-of-2 from behind the NIT tournament’s extended 3-point line — one of the unique rule changes, much like the division of the game into 10-minute quarters instead of 20-minute halves, that the NCAA instituted for the tournament. Notre Dame entered halftime on a dunk from graduate student forward Austin Torres and a 46-34 lead.

While the 12-point lead at the break appeared to be a comfortable one — the Irish led by as many as 19 points in the first half — and Torres said the team recommitted to defense in the second half to eventually extend that gap.

“We knew that we needed to defend,” Torres said. “We gave up 34 points in the first half, and we really felt like we gave up a lot of easy buckets, weren’t getting back in transition. That’s something we really wanted to emphasize in the second half, and we want to continue to guard — and that’s going to set the pace for the rest of tournament.”

Irish sophomore wing Nikola Djogo jumps for a dunk during Notre Dame's 84-63 win over Hampton on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion in the first round of the NIT.

But the senior trio of Colson, Geben and Farrell wasted no time making an impact in the second half, making all of the team’s first three field goals in the third quarter. With the lead at 52-36, Farrell made a nifty behind-the-back pass to Geben, who dunked it and completed the three-point play to make it 55-36.

From there the Irish didn’t look back. Colson worked his way up to a double-double, and Geben continued his strong night and finished the evening with 18 points and six rebounds. 

“We didn’t do anything differently,” Geben said. “Coaches highlighted points we needed to emphasize during the game, and for the most part we executed well, got stops, rebounds and were able to make some easy buckets around the rim.”

The Irish led 66-43 after the third quarter, leaving no doubt about the outcome of the game. The most exciting event of the fourth quarter was a missed dunk by sophomore guard Nikola Djogo, as Notre Dame coasted to a final score of 84-63.

Deep senior role players Matt Gregory and Liam Nelligan even scored, bringing the 2,101-person crowd to its feet for the loudest cheer of the night.

Next up for Notre Dame will be a second-round matchup against the winner of Wednesday’s game between No. 4-seed Penn State and No. 5-seed Temple. The time for that game is set for Saturday at noon, still at Purcell Pavilion.

“We need to prepare for an ACC opponent,” Farrell said of the team’s mindset going into a few days of rest. “Those are two good teams. Penn State could have been a tournament team, they beat a lot of good teams in [the Big Ten]. Temple beat Wichita State. They’re two really good teams — we need to prepare and we need to defend like we did tonight.”