Notre Dame coach Mike Brey talks about the Irish’s win over Purdue in the Crossroads Classic.
INDIANAPOLIS – Is there a such thing in college basketball as a must-win game in December?
“We were probably staring at one today,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
The Irish came into their Crossroads Classic meeting Saturday against Purdue fresh off a pair of heartbreakers — one on a buzzer-beater to UCLA, and another to Oklahoma in Madison Square Garden. So they couldn’t have picked a better time to put together their most complete performance of the season, which resulted in an 88-80 win.
Where to start with what the Irish offense did against the Boilermakers?
The Irish could hardly miss out of the gates, hitting 11 of their first 13 shots and using a 14-2 run to lead by as many as 12 midway through the first half. John Mooney scored 21, including 15 in the second half. Rex Pflueger had seven points and 10 assists (though his injury in the second half was the lone blemish on the Notre Dame win. Brey said Pflueger will get an MRI next week, but that the injury “didn’t look good” and an ACL tear is feared.) D.J. Harvey scored 19 and T.J. Gibbs, usually the focal point of the offense, scored a rather pedestrian 12 points.
It was that kind of day for the Irish. Every time Purdue mounted a threat, Notre Dame had an answer. When the Boilermakers trimmed their deficit to four points early in the second half, Notre Dame answered with a 5-0 run. When the deficit was trimmed to five a few minutes later, another 5-0 spurt followed. When Purdue was making one last attempt in the closing minutes, Mooney’s 3-pointer made it a double-digit game again.
“What an afternoon of growth for our group. I’m really proud of our team,” Brey said. “I thought we put two halves of offense together. We haven’t really been able to do that in these last three games. Some of the guys in new roles made big plays in a big game and a big atmosphere. I feel we can grow off of this.”
And while plenty can be said about the team’s offense, the defense more than held its own, especially in the first half. Purdue shot 33 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes, which mitigated the impacts of a Notre Dame offensive lull to end the period. And even though the Boilermakers heated up in the second half, shooting 50 percent, the Irish matched them on the offensive end. And though Notre Dame committed an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers, they were 25-of-29 at the free-throw line.
Even when things looked dangerously close to slipping in the second half, the group held together. And that kind of fortitude shown in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in December could pay dividends in bigger games down the road.
“We’re a confident group,” Mooney said. “From 1 to 12, everyone believes in each other and believes in themselves. They did get it kind of close there, but it’s just a matter of getting the guys together, calming everyone down, taking a deep breath and we did that.”
It was a lot of little things that led to one very big win for a team in desperate need of one. This is a new era for Notre Dame, one without Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. So the impact of this win might prove two-fold: a win now, and an invaluable learning experience for the future.
“We’re a younger group right now, but with time down the stretch guys start making plays,” Mooney said. “Today we made free throws, made big shots, made some stops. Hopefully we can use this as momentum moving forward.”
NOTRE DAME 88, PURDUE 80
NOTRE DAME (7-3) — Mooney 6-8 6-7 21, Gibbs 3-11 3-4 12, Pflueger 2-4 2-2 7, Hubb 1-6 5-6 7, Harvey 6-10 4-4 19, Durham 3-5 2-2 8, Laszewski 1-1 1-1 3, Djogo 0-0 0-0 0, Goodwin 4-5 2-3 11. Totals 26-50 25-29 88.
PURDUE (6-5) — Haarms 1-1 0-0 2, Eifert 3-6 0-0 8, Edwards 8-22 7-8 27, Eastern 1-3 1-4 3, Cline 5-13 2-3 15, Wheeler 2-6 0-0 4, Boudreaux 4-7 1-3 9, Williams 5-6 0-0 10, Stefanovic 0-2 0-0 0, Hunter 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 30-70 11-18 80.
Halftime—Notre Dame 36-29. 3-Point Goals—Notre Dame 11-21 (Mooney 3-3, Gibbs 3-5, Harvey 3-5, Goodwin 1-2, Pflueger 1-3, Hubb 0-3), Purdue 9-29 (Edwards 4-10, Cline 3-9, Eifert 2-3, Hunter 0-1, Stefanovic 0-2, Wheeler 0-2, Boudreaux 0-2). Fouled Out—Eastern, Eifert. Rebounds—Notre Dame 29 (Mooney 7), Purdue 37 (Boudreaux 7). Assists—Notre Dame 20 (Pflueger 10), Purdue 17 (Cline 5). Total Fouls—Notre Dame 15, Purdue 21.