When Mike Brey stated last Thursday that senior point guard Matt Farrell, who has a bone bruise in his left ankle, is “Definitely out the next two games, maybe more. We can come back and re-evaluate him next Wednesday,” it was demoralizing for a struggling Notre Dame Fighting Irish team (13-10, 3-7) also without star senior forward Bonzie Colson.
Matt Farrell’s return versus the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday afternoon was a welcomed sight for Notre Dame.
However, having not played a lot in ACC play, the rust showed. Farrell finished the game with 16 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists on 5-13 from the field, as Notre Dame ended up falling, 76-58.
Farrell was not the only player who struggled for the Irish. As a team, Notre Dame shot 38.9% from the field and had a hard time getting the ball in the basket all game.
Not only did Notre Dame’s inability to make shots hurt them against the Wolfpack, but allowing North Carolina State to win 38 to 26 on the glass did not help the cause. Also, the Irish committed 15 turnovers, which led to run-outs and easy baskets for NC State.
The combination of not scoring many points and allowing the Wolfpack to score extra points off of offensive rebounds and Irish turnovers created one of Notre Dame’s worst performances.
For the Wolfpack, guards Torin Dorn and Braxton Beverly played extremely well, as they were both aggressive on defense in forcing turnovers as well as scoring in multiple ways on the offensive end of the floor.
Highlights from this afternoon’s 76-58 win over Notre Dame pic.twitter.com/uoXz4vCMAo
— NC State Men’s Bball (@PackMensBball) February 4, 2018
As Notre Dame continues to battle for an NCAA tournament berth, they need both under and upperclassmen alike to step up and star in their roles.
Matt Farrell still has to shake off some rust from his injury. Without him appearing to be one-hundred percent, Notre Dame loses two major traits that Farrell possesses which make him a tremendous point guard.
First, Farrell is a leader and basically a coach on the floor. Second, he can do multiple things on the court very well. Due to his ability to find open teammates for easy baskets as well as his scoring prowess, Notre Dame really misses him when he’s off the court.
Specific players that need to step up include sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs, junior guard Rex Pflueger, and redshirt freshman guard Nikola Djogo. While all three of them have had good moments on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball this year, more consistent play in crunch time will be needed to get the Irish over the hump. Even with all of their injuries, Notre Dame is still a very talented basketball team that is capable of winning games.
The Irish went 1-4 in the five conference games they played without their star point guard. Although the record does not look good, Notre Dame has had a chance to win every game with the exception of Duke.
In their three ACC losses without Farrell on the court, not taking into account the beat-down at Duke, the Irish have lost by a combined 13 points, or by an average of 4.3 points per game. Another close loss to Virginia Tech at home this past Saturday night furthered concerns for the Irish faithful about Notre Dame’s postseason hopes.
With Notre Dame proving they can compete with most teams in the ACC on a consistent basis without Farrell, hopefully he can provide the baskets late needed to secure close wins.
If the Irish are able to start the games off on a good note and build confidence in the early going, then winning more conference games is not out of the question. However, they must shore up their late-game execution at both ends of the floor. It seems as though opposing teams have figured out that the ball is going to T.J. Gibbs or Matt Farrell when games are on the line. Therefore, other players must know that and be ready to step up when called upon.
Rex Pflueger and Nikola Djogo do not have to be otherworldly in order for Notre Dame to win games. They just have to be able to make the right play when the ball is in their hands. If they are open for a three, they have to take it with confidence and be able to knock it down.
When Gibbs or Farrell has the ball and is trapped by the opposing team, recognizing they have to find a way to get the ball is extremely crucial in avoiding turnovers. Lastly, being able to penetrate into the lane and either score the ball or kick it out to open teammates will help immensely on the offensive end of the floor.
All in all, Notre Dame has been right there in every conference game except one. Even though Matt Farrell’s return did not result in a win on Saturday, it will help them down the stretch of ACC play. Sooner or later, I expect the ball will bounce their way in close contests and be enough to put them in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid come Selection Sunday.