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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson celebrates during the Irish's comeback victory against Virginia Tech in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday in New York.

Thursday, March 08, 2018 1:00 am

ACC Tournament Notre Dame 71 Virginia Tech 65

An epic Irish comeback

Erase team-record 21-point deficit to advance in tourney

Michael J. Lewis | For The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame

vs. Duke

What: ACC Tournament quarterfinals

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

When: 7 p.m. today

TV: ESPN

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The team that looked dead suddenly came to life, and a victory for the ages was the result.

The Notre Dame men's basketball team pulled off the biggest comeback in school history Wednesday in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, erasing a 21-point second-half deficit and stunning Virginia Tech 71-65 at Barclays Center.

Keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Irish played poorly for the first 25 minutes before rallying for a victory that puts them into the ACC quarterfinals at 7 p.m. today against Duke.

A desperation 3-pointer from star Bonzie Colson put the Irish ahead with two minutes left, and free throws down the stretch clinched a most improbable win.

“Well how about that?” a jovial Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I don't think I've ever been prouder of a group, because they were thumping us pretty good because they're really hard to guard, but the last 15 minutes we got better defensively and made some adjustments offensively.

“This is such a great group, man. They're such tough dudes.”

There was absolutely nothing in the first 25 minutes that made anyone think the 10th-seeded Irish (20-13) were going to still be alive in this tournament today.

They looked heavy-legged, Colson was having a miserable night (he finished 4 of 14), and Virginia Tech was unstoppable on the other end of the floor.

The Hokies forced the Irish into 25 percent field goal shooting in the first half, and the second half looked like more of the same when the Hokies' Kerry Blackshear Jr. sank a driving layup to put seventh-seeded Virginia Tech (21-11) up 47-26 with 15:07 left.

Notre Dame looked defeated and the hundreds of Irish fans were silent.

“The great thing was that it wasn't one person making a motivational speech or anything like that,” Irish guard Rex Pfleuger said. “It was the collective group effort of everyone coming in and contributing something.”

Notre Dame began to chip away, with guard T.J. Gibbs finally able to penetrate the Hokies' defense to find open shooters. And the Hokies were cold, going 7:02 without a field goal.

Notre Dame's Matt Farrell, who scored a team-high 22, hit a pair of 3s, and slowly the lead was down to 13.

With Notre Dame down eight and 9:07 left, Farrell and Chris Clarke got into a scrap and Clarke shoved Farrell, resulting in a technical.

“I think that showed toughness and got us a little fired up,” Farrell said. “We've got to start games like that.”

Farrell hit his free throws and the Irish fans came alive.

Finally, on what looked like a busted possession and the Hokies up 61-59, Colson banked in a 3-pointer from the right sideline with the shot clock at two. Colson ran down the court kissing the fingers on his right hand, waving his arms frantically.

“Backboard is there for a reason,” Colson said with a smile. “I shot it and looked it in, and it went in.”

After Colson's shot, which made Notre Dame 7 for 13 beyond the arc in the second half, it was all free throws for the Irish as they put the game away going 9 for 12 from the line in the final two minutes.

Colson, back recently from a broken foot, finished with 12 points, Rex Pflueger had 14 points and nine rebounds, and Gibbs added 13 points and seven assists.

Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs each scored 15 for the Hokies.

Now, the Irish get another chance at Duke, their fourth straight in ACC Tournaments. The Irish are 9-2 at Barclays Center. Duke is 6-0.

Brey thinks a win over the Blue Devils gets his team into the NCAA Tournament.

“I don't want to hear about being one of the best 68; when I have my guys back, we're a Top 20 team,” Brey said. “I feel strongly we should be a part of it, but we have another great opportunity to end all the drama of it tomorrow night.

“But we need to get some rest.”