The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 07, 2018 1:00 am

ACC Tournament

Irish barely escape opener

Taken down to wire by lowly Panthers before securing Brey's 500th win

Michael J. Lewis | For The Journal Gazette

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – This was supposed to be a warm-up game for the Notre Dame men's basketball team Tuesday.

A first-round matchup in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, against a Pittsburgh team that went winless in the league, going down to the wire?

Nobody on the Irish or in the stands at Barclays Center, or maybe anywhere in America outside of western Pennsylvania, expected this.

But there it was, in the final two minutes, Pittsburgh with a 3-point attempt to tie and perhaps pull off a shocking victory.

It didn't happen; the Panthers' Jared Wilson-Frame's shot from the top of the key with 1:05 left clanged off the rim, and the Irish survived to win, 67-64.

But Mike Brey's 500th career victory as a head coach was much, much tougher than it should've been.

“We are thrilled to escape,” Brey said. “This is kind of what you expect in a tournament game, but we are thrilled that we live to fight another day.”

Notre Dame shot abysmally in the second half (4 for 24 from the field, 17 percent) and allowed the Panthers to hang around until late with Pittsburgh getting within two points twice in the final minutes. The four field goals are the fewest in one half under Brey, who took over in 2000.

But the Irish hit their free throws (26 of 31), and Notre Dame gets to play again as it tries to convince the NCAA Tournament selection committee that with senior forward Bonzie Colson healthy, it deserves to be in the field of 68. The Irish improved to 13-4 with Colson in the lineup and are 8-1 at the Barclays Center.

The No. 10 Irish will now play No. 7 seed Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. today.

“We knew it was going to come down to end of-game situations, and we've been through a lot of those this year,” said Colson, who scored 19 points. “We knew it was going to be a grind.”

Seemingly more important than the outcome for Notre Dame (19-13) was how Colson's foot felt. The preseason All-American played his third game Tuesday since missing two months with a broken left foot. He played heavy minutes again Tuesday (33) and will have to play every day this week if the Irish keep advancing.

“It's healed. It's fine. I did everything I can through the time I was hurt to get it ready as soon as possible,” Colson said.

As of Tuesday, it certainly looks pretty darn healthy. Moving and jumping fluidly with no sign of the broken foot bothering him, Colson scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds.

But even with him playing well, the Irish couldn't shake Pittsburgh (8-24) in what likely will be coach Kevin Stallings' final game with the program.

After Wilson-Frame's miss, Notre Dame's T.J. Gibbs sank two free throws.

But the Panthers' Marcus Carr drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut Notre Dame's lead to two, at 63-61, with 48 seconds remaining. A missed jumper by Matt Farrell was rebounded by Colson, who was fouled.

With game pressure suddenly on, Colson made both free throws with 22 seconds left, and after another miss followed by Farrell (18 points, three assists) making two more from the line, Notre Dame could finally exhale.

Now it's likely the Irish need at least one or two more wins to get consideration from the selection committee.

The Irish lost to the Hokies 80-75 on Jan. 27 at the Joyce Center, but that was without Colson.

Farrell took a moment after the game to praise his coach, who is now the 23rd active Division I head man to win 500.

“He's the best coach I've ever had for sure, and he treats you like a man, so that's something I really respect,” Farrell said.

Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech

What: ACC Tournament, second round

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

When: 7 p.m. today


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