Notre Dame lost to West Virginia 83-71 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. The Irish were unable to replicate the success they had in the 2015 and 2016 tournaments.
Notre Dame’s first round game – like most NCAA tournament games – was a nail biter from start to finish. They faced off against a tough Princeton team that carried a 19-game winning streak into the tournament. Notre Dame struggled offensively in this game, which can be partially attributed to the pressure of a single-elimination tournament.
The Irish shot below average from the field (40.4%) and struggled from the free throw line (66.7%). The biggest miss from the free throw line came from Matt Farrell with eleven seconds left in the game. The Irish were leading 59-58 and Farrell missed the front end of a 1-and-1. In the ensuing possession, Devin Cannady (one of Princeton’s best 3-point shooters) got a clean look from beyond the arc that would have given the Tigers a two point lead. Fortunately for the Irish, he missed. Notre Dame was able to hold on to win 60-58.
In the second round, Notre Dame faced West Virginia. The Irish were expected to play them in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament, but the Mountaineers were upset in the first round by Stephen F. Austin. West Virginia was given the nickname “Press Virginia” because they like to play aggressive full-court press defense. Plenty of teams press on defense, but no team plays press like West Virginia. The Mountaineers were successful in disrupting the flow of Notre Dame’s offense. The Irish turned the ball over 14 times. It was the first time since their January 24th match up against Virginia that the Irish finished a game with more turnovers than assists.
In addition to the turnovers, Notre Dame shot below average from the field (again), which can be partially attributed to West Virginia’s defense. Most notable were the struggles of senior V.J. Beachem, who was 2-14 from the field. The lone bright spot in the box score was free throw shooting, where the Irish were a perfect 17-17. West Virginia started the game with a 10-0 run and did not look back. They lead from start to finish and seemed to have an answer for every Notre Dame run. The Mountaineers were red-hot from three, shooting 57% as a team. Notre Dame attempted twice as many threes as West Virginia, but only made two more overall (ND 10-28; WVU 8-14).
The Irish did not have a great showing in this year’s NCAA tournament. While it’s common for teams to underperform due to the increased pressure of the tournament, this Notre Dame team had a handful of players with Elite Eight experience. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to put it all together when the stakes were the highest. The Irish will lose seniors Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, but they should have a very experienced core group of players returning next season.
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