It hurts, but all good things must come to an end. Dominating most of the 2nd half, Winthrop won their first NCAA game ever, but not after a heroic comeback by the Irish.
The Eagles used a 22-6 run to start the half and take a commanding 20 point lead with a little over 13 minutes left in the game. Using great press defense and getting some misses from Winthrop at the charity stripe, ND was able to roar back and take a lead before inevitably falling in regulation.
Winthrop really impressed me. The annual overhyped mid-major they are not. Instead, Notre Dame faced a quality team with serious talent. Without being able to hit the perimeter shot, the Irish dug serious holes for themselves all afternoon.
Rob Kurz fouled out. A lot of the fouls called against the Irish were questionable at best, but the outcome was not decided by the officials. The rising senior ended his season with a double double, 13 over 10. It will be great to have him back as a leader next year.
Luke Harangody was unable to provide much inside. Seated on the bench for most of the 2nd half as Brey looked for a quicker lineup, Bamm-Bamm scored 4 points and grabbed one rebound.
Tory Jackson looked very rattled for much of the game. However, during Notre Dame's 2nd half run, Jackson seemed much more capable and also provided a few drives to the basket. His penetration has greatly improved over the year. Also hit a couple threes. As of right now, a starting spot is his to lose.
Zach Hillesland provided the usual hustle off the bench. 10 points, 6 rebounds. It will be interesting to see how he fits in next year. Sometimes, the point forward handled the ball up the floor. Others, he played on the wing.
Ryan Ayers used his great wingspan to disrupt Winthrop's offensive flow on the press and made a great move that looked to be at least a no-call. He was called for a block; the free throws that followed ended ND's chance for a win. No made shots, but should participate as the best perimeter shooter next season.
Luke Zeller earned a lot of minutes as a more athletic big man than Harangody. Unfortunately, he was unable to add much to the offense. Peoples handled the ball some and made a shot.
Finally, our seniors. Colin Falls couldn't knock anything down from three, which severely hurt the team's chances. However, his overall game was pretty good. His last contest in a Notre Dame uniform ended with him trying to make things happen on offense and acting as an extention of the coaching staff on the floor. His leadership will be greatly missed.
Russell Carter had a few good drives and one tremendous dunk. The TV commentator rightly mentioned how much Russ has improved the last two years. Unfortunately, his last game ended poorly with him shooting 0-6 from three-point land. Good luck to you in the pros, Russell.
A bitter end to a truly great season. This year's team has laid the groundwork for extended sucess in the future. Our seniors will be greatly missed, but as Coach Kearney said, the nucleus is there for another great year next season.
That's all for the game. Over the weekend, I'll wrap up the season with a few year-end specials on the team. Congratulations to Winthrop and good luck to the rest of the Big East teams that are alive in the tourney.