If you were looking for a how-to guide for losing to a motivated mid-major, the Irish provided it on Tuesday night. The Irish lost 80-77 at home to the Ball State Cardinals, and were lucky it was that close. The big story will be the ending when Tayler Parsons hit a contested three with 1.7 seconds left immediately after Matt Farrell’s own three that tied the game at 77. Despite the late run by the Irish, this game was lost far earlier than the last twenty seconds.
Slow Starts Continue
For the fourth straight game, the Irish offense was nowhere to be found out of the gate. This was understandable against Wichita State and Michigan State, but it continued against 300+ KenPom rated St. Francis on Sunday. Last night, the Irish trailed by five at halftime, and failed to crack 30 points at the break. ND had a five minute FG drought from 11:19 to 6:19 in the middle of the half where they looked totally lost on offense. Whether it’s a focus issue, energy issue, or something else, it’s becoming a worrying trend.
The Cardinals outrebounded the Irish 36-24 including a 12-4 advantage on the offensive glass. Again, this is excusable against a front-line like Michigan State’s; it’s not against a MAC team. This wasn’t a bunch of long-rebounds bouncing out to Cardinal shooters on the perimeter either. The Irish didn’t box out at the rim, and gave the Cardinals easy put-backs, tip-ins, and allowed them to extend possessions. John Mooney led the Irish with seven boards, while three Cardinals matched, or exceeded that number. The Irish guards didn’t help out their bigs either. Farrell, TJ Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and DJ Harvey combined for just six boards. Ball State’s guards grabbed 16.
Free Throw Shooting
While the free throw shooting wasn’t awful, it isn’t the weapon that it was last season. ND shot a respectable 73% from the line going 19/26 which was right at their season average. On the negative side, TJ Gibbs shot just 50% from the stripe (3/6). This included back-to-back missed FTs at the end of the first half when the Irish had a chance to tie or take the lead when trailing 30-29. Bonzie Colson also shot just 6/9 from the line which trailed his average from last season. Mooney also missed a critical FT late in the game. Currently, Marty Geben leads the Irish in FT%, and he wasn’t on the floor at the end of the game. Colson and Gibbs have shot the most FTs for ND, and are currently the two worst FT shooters of the starters. On Tuesday, Ball State shot 87.5% missing just two attempts. Had the Irish matched them, they’d have won.
Lack of Bench Contributions
Entering the season, Elijah Burns was the first guy up off the bench. On Tuesday night, he got a DNP. DJ Harvey, who’s averaged close to 20 minutes per game, looked totally lost in his seven minutes. Mooney, who was clearly behind Harvey and Burns in Maui, played a career high 19 minutes against the Cardinals, and was on the floor in crunch time. Austin Torres played a minute in the second half, and was a foul away from a trillion. The bench was a question mark coming into the season, and scored just six points against Ball State. That’s not going to cut it on a night when two or more of the starters have off nights.
End of Half Execution
At the end of the first half, the Irish inbounded the ball with 31 seconds left trailing by three. Instead of taking the last shot, John Mooney missed a three with 10 seconds left on the clock. Ball State grabbed the board, and ND gave up a buzzer beater on the other end. At the end of the game, the Irish were a stop away from forcing overtime, but didn’t get it done. As good as the Irish were in game situations on defense against Wichita State, they blew it against Ball State.
🚨HUGE UPSET ALERT!!!!🚨
— 🏀🚢🎶TITANIC HOOPS🏀🚢🎶 (@TitanicHoops) December 6, 2017
Small Silver Lining
Despite playing terrible for most of the game, the Irish had a chance to get the game to overtime. They didn’t quit, and fought hard in the second half. On offense, they made winning plays down the stretch and gave themselves a chance to escape. Marty Geben had another solid game scoring 12 points on 8 FGA and was a perfect 4/4 from the line. Rex Pflueger had a decent game as well scoring 11 on 8 FGA. This team is still (probably) a tournament team, and they can finish high in the ACC. It’s still the first week of December, and the Irish have numerous big games left on the schedule. That said, the glow of Maui is all but gone, and the fanbase can pump the brakes on Final Four talk.