BUFFALO, New York – The fifth seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the fourth seeded West Virginia Mountaineers this afternoon at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32.
West Virginia stormed out of the gates to take a 10-0 lead over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish early in the first half. Notre Dame missed their first five field goals before a Bonzie Colson layup got the Irish on the board, nearly four minutes into the first half.
Notre Dame, who entered the game averaging the fewest turnovers per game in the NCAA, committed four turnovers in the first ten minutes of Saturday’s game, as the Mountaineers rattled Notre Dame early with a constant full-court press. Notre Dame was able to trim the West Virginia lead to just four midway through the first half on the strength of buckets by Matt Farrell on consecutive possessions, the first being a three pointer, and the second a pull-up jumper in front of the free-throw line making it 15-11 in favor of the Mountaineers.
West Virginia responded to the Farrell baskets by clamping down their full-court press even harder, trapping the Notre Dame players into receiving inbound passes in the corners, and forcing errant passes. The Mountaineers stretched the lead back to ten, at 28-18 with 6:58 to play in the first half.
West Virginia’s pressure defense slowed the Irish attack down for much of the first half, but the Irish adapted with each Mike Brey timeout, making the necessary adjustments to get back into the game after digging themselves a ten point deficit right out of the gate. West Virginia’s press defense resulted in some foul trouble down the stretch in the first half, racking up nine fouls, and allowing the Irish to capitalize at the charity stripe as they shot 11-11 from the line in the half.
The Irish would shrink the West Virginia lead to just three at 32-29 with a few minutes to play in the first half, before once again the Mountaineers clamped down the press defense, and increased their lead to nine at 38-29 with 1:34 to play. Notre Dame committed their 10th turnover of the game near the end of the first half, the Irish as I mentioned, led the nation in turnover rate at just 9.3 per game.
The second half started out the same way that the first did, with West Virginia clamping down on Notre Dame the entire length of the court, forcing bad passes, and bad shots out of the Irish, who were forced into settling for contested three point attempts. The Mountaineers stretched the lead back to 10 at the 12:00 minute mark in the second half, leading the Irish 57-47.
Notre Dame shot 5-15 from the field, and just 2-9 from three point range in the first ten minutes of the second half on Saturday. The West Virginia defense was so stifling that even when the Irish held the Mountaineers without a field goal for a stretch of roughly six minutes, they were only able to shrink the lead to seven points, trailing the Mountaineers 63-56 with 5:40 to play.
Even with Junior forward Bonzie Colson turning it on in the second half, pouring in 18 points for the Irish in the half and 27 for the game, the West Virginia defense was just too much for Notre Dame to handle as the Mountaineers knocked the Irish off on Saturday, 83-71 and earned a trip to the Sweet 16. Maywood, Illinois product Jevon Carter led the Mountaineers in scoring with 23 points on Saturday afternoon.