BUFFALO, N.Y. – Notre Dame avoided the dreaded upset from a 12th seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bonzie Colson scored 18 points and the West Region’s fifth-seeded Irish avoided a meltdown in the final two minutes to hang on for a 60-58 win over the Princeton Tigers on Thursday afternoon.
After Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell missed the front end of a one-and-one with a 59-58 lead, Princeton had a chance to win on its final possession. Devin Cannady missed an open 3-pointer, and Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia pulled down the rebound and was fouled.
"We gave everybody a show, right?" Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We escaped. We’ve been in a lot of games like that where game situations need a big defensive stop. We’ve been there. I’m proud we’re still alive."
The Irish players appeared stunned walking off the floor.
Those players included Farrell, the usually clutch-shooting point guard, who hit 6 of 9 for 16 points. He wore a scowl as he nearly left the floor through the wrong exit after Cannady’s miss.
The Irish (26-9) nearly squandered an 11-point second half lead.
Notre Dame improved to 9-2 in its past 11.
The Irish have also won seven of nine tournament games over the past three years, and they are the only team to reach the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons.
Notre Dame led 59-54 with 1:10 left when Colson hit a pair of free throws.
The Tigers scored the next two baskets. Pete Miller put back a missed Cannady 3-pointer with 54 seconds left.
Farrell missed a 14-footer, and the Tigers cut the lead to 1 when Miller scored again, this time putting back a miss by Steven Cook.
"No matter how it looked, we got the win, and that’s all that matters," Colson said.
Spencer Weisz led Princeton with 15 points. The Ivy League champion Tigers (23-7) had a 19-game winning streak going into the NCAA Tournament.
"We had a shot," Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. "Right now, this one hurts. When you’re in the locker room, it’s hard to say a proper ‘Thank you,’ because it feels like goodbye."
Cannady thought his shot was on target.
"I looked at the rim and when it went out of my hand, I thought it was good," said Cannady, who hit just two of 10 3-point attempts and finished with seven points. "But it didn’t go in. It happens when you take those kinds of shots."
The Tigers were making their 25th tournament appearance and have lost in the first round in each of their past four trips.
They haven’t won since the fifth-seeded Tigers defeated UNLV 69-57 in 1998.
In 1989 the Tigers nearly became the first No. 16 seed to take down a No. 1, when coach Pete Carril and his undersized squad took mighty Georgetown and twin towers Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, to the final buzzer in a 50-49 loss.
Seven years later, Henderson played for Carril’s 13th-seeded squad that scored a 43-41 first-round upset of defending national champion UCLA.