For the first time since 1979, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to the Elite 8.
And man, did they make a statement along the way.
With 16:41 left in the game, No. 7 Wichita State completed their comeback from an early 13-point deficit, using a 6-0 spurt to take a 38-37 lead, their first of the game. It would also be their last lead of the game, as No. 3 Notre Dame hit eight straight shots and 15 of their next 17 field goals as they went on a game-winning 38-16 run over the course of the next 12 minutes.
Notre Dame would go on to win 81-70.
“We got going a little bit,” head coach Mike Brey said in his postgame interview on CBS. “We guarded to get out of here, and then we got into one of those offensive rhythms.”
Demetrius Jackson was terrific for the Irish, finishing with 20 points and three assists, while Pat Connaughton added 16 points and 10 boards, but the real star of the night was Jerian Grant, who made the evisceration of a good Shocker defense seem effortless.
Grant had nine points and 11 assists while committing just two turnovers, putting on a clinic in how to run the pick-and-roll. Wichita State put Tekele Cotton on Grant, and he actually did a pretty good job in limiting the first-team all-american’s ability to score. But what the Irish do offensively is to spread the floor with shooters, which created quite a bit of space for center Zach Auguste rolling to the rim; Auguste was 6-for-6 from the floor and had 15 points. When Wichita State’s defense slid over to help, Grant picked out those shooters, as the Irish went 9-for-19 from beyond the arc.
The question that everyone is going to ask after seeing Notre Dame put on this kind of offensive clinic is whether or not the Irish can get to the Final Four, a path that, you would assume, runs through No. 1 Kentucky. The conversation is going to be dominated by talk of whether or not the Irish can actually get that win, but for now, it may be moot.
At least to Notre Dame.
Brey is a terrific basketball coach, a guy that has won more than 400 career games in his 15 seasons at Notre Dame, but his relative lack of tournament success has left him the butt of jokes. This is Brey’s first trip to the Elite 8, and it was only the second time at Notre Dame that he even reached the second weekend, the first since 2003. And given what he’s been through this week, with his mother passing away the day of Notre Dame’s win over No. 6 Butler, what choice does Brey have beyond living in the moment.
Frankly, I don’t think who they play matters to Brey, who, according to reporters in Cleveland, walked into the press room early and, when told he could wait for his turn at the podium in a back room, asked, “Is there a bar in it?”
He’s not worried about who he plays. He’s just happy to be playing another game.
As he told CBS after the game, “see you Saturday, baby.”