In his four years in South Bend, Rex Pflueger has been part of some amazing moments. His emergence as a defensive stopper was critical to ND’s deep post-season run in 2016. He secured Notre Dame’s second consecutive Sweet Sixteen birth with his tip-in to beat Stephen F. Austin that year.
By Pflueger’s sophomore year, he was a solid part of Brey’s rotation. In last year’s injury filled campaign, Rex became one of Brey’s iron men. Along with TJ Gibbs, Rex did everything he could to keep the ship afloat in his junior season. It was no surprise when Mike Brey named Pflueger a captain for his senior season at Notre Dame. A consummate “team-first” guy, Rex is the embodiment of Brey’s emphasis on program development.
Sadly, the last moment Rex will contribute on the floor came in Notre Dame’s excellent 88-80 victory over Purdue Saturday in the annual Crossroads Classic Shootout. After two heartbreaking road losses, the Irish were in a “must win” situation. History at this particular venue, in this particular event, has been terrible. In college basketball, it is tough to have your back against the wall before New Year’s Day. However, this ND team needed a win – badly.
Rex hadn’t always been at his best in his senior season. His shooting continued to be streaky. The rash of turnovers from the senior were cause for concern. Trusted to shepherd this young team, some wondered if the youth behind Pflueger should eat in to some of his minutes. Saturday, Plfueger answered all his doubters. He moved the ball effectively, tallying 10 assists. Several in spectacular fashion. His position defense returned to his incredibly high standard. His three defensive boards and two steals lifted his team as they put in their most complete performance of the season.
At about the 9:00 mark of the second half, Rex finished a lay-up on a runout to give his team a ten point lead. It was clear that a Purdue defender clipped Pflueger’s leg as he went to the rim, but that contact went uncalled. Rex came up hobbled, but continued on. A few minutes later, Rex is about to collect a long rebound when a Purdue player absolutely levels him, but no one among the crew of Mike Eades, Terry Wymer, or Brian Dorsey makes the call. After another instance of heavy contact, this awful officiating crew does nothing. Irish fans have come to expect terrible treatment by Crossroads officials, but this was obscene. Rex managed to continue and sprung Nate Laszewski for an and-one layup to give the Irish a 15 point lead. With six minutes to go, Rex picks up his 10th assist on a beautiful Dane Goodwin three. The guy was absolutely gutting it out in one of his best performances of his Irish career.
Then, it happened.
As Rex elevated on the defensive end, he suddenly reached for the back of his left knee and came down awkwardly. He immediately called for the ND training staff. It was the kind of non-contact event that athletes and fans dread. The Irish staff took Rex back to the locker room immediately. He emerged without his jersey to cheer on his team with a few minutes left to play. The win was exactly what Notre Dame needed, but the mood was bittersweet. It would take an MRI to confirm, but most feared the worst.
Monday afternoon, that confirmation came by way of a Pflueger tweet.
— Rex Pflueger (@rexpflueger) December 17, 2018
Every Irish fan can rest assured that Pflueger will continue to be a positive voice and productive influence on the program. It is just a damn shame we don’t get his contribution on the floor. The Purdue game was exactly what his team needed from Rex. At a critical juncture in this young season, he delivered what his young team required. The ball movement, decisive passing, and defensive effort were exactly what we all hoped Rex could provide. Now, we thank him for an amazing four years and hope his influence on the next generation of Irish stars helps them develop quickly. We’re going to need them.