Notre Dame, Brey earn first tournament title
By: Kevin Wheeler
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is widely known as one of the most respected head coaches in college basketball, but there was always one gaping hole in his resume. On Saturday night, Brey finally earned what had eluded him many times before.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 90-82 to win the 2015 ACC Tournament in the Greensboro Coliseum and earned their first conference title in school history.
“There is no better achievement in the history of our program,” Brey said after the game.
Notre Dame was an independent program for 18 years, but the Fighting Irish spent their basketball seasons as a member of the Big East conference since 1995. Brey took his team to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament six times from 2000-2013, but failed to reach the championship game each time. In Notre Dame’s second year in the ACC, Brey beat both North Carolina and Duke on the way to the conference title.
When Brey cut down the nets on the court of the Greensboro Coliseum, twirling the net in the year and yelling off the podium to his team and the sea of cameras below him, it was easy to see how much he enjoyed it.
“To win a championship in this league means a lot,” he said. “Going through Duke and Carolina and what we’ve done on Tobacco Road this year, I remember Lefty [Driesell] when he won it [with Maryland in 1984], he said, ‘I’m going to bolt the trophy to the hood of my car and drive all over Tobacco Road.’ So, if you see a Buick Enclave in June with this trophy going from Asheville to Wilmington, that’s me.”
The Irish looked dead with nine minutes to go in the championship game, down by eight with North Carolina’s Marcus Paige beginning to heat up from the floor earning 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the half. But a Mike Brey timeout with 9:21 to go changed the complexion of the game.
Sparked by six North Carolina turnovers, the Irish went on a 24-2 run up until the three-minute mark that sealed a victory. Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams gave all credit to Notre Dame. “You have to congratulate them,” he said. “That is the bottom line. It wasn’t anything about being tired from playing four days in a row. That wasn’t a factor in the game. That would just be an excuse. They played better than we did. We panicked a little bit more than we have at any time this year, and their defense got stronger with every basket.”
Marcus Paige had 24 points and five assists in 38 minutes of play, but couldn’t muster enough plays to hold his team’s late lead.
“When you sense a team going on a run and making a couple of shots, we always talk about that as the extra important time to value the basketball and run some offense and make them guard for a little bit because that takes them out of their rhythm offensively,” he said. “So we did the exact opposite of what we talked about in that situation. We want to be disciplined on offense and make them work to try and stifle that run, and that just didn’t happen.”
Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant, a member of the first team All-ACC, earned the ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player award for his efforts during the tournament. In the championship game, Grant dropped 24 points and dished out 10 assists. He averaged 16.7 points and 6.3 assists per game in the tournament.
Grant, who returned this season after missing last year due to academic ineligibility, said he knew his Irish had a championship in them all season. “This is what we talked about,” he said. “We wanted to do something special this year. Me and coach talked about how we weren’t done yet. We hadn’t done anything special here together, and I think this is really special.”
The first All-ACC Tournament team was comprised of only Irish and Tar Heels, with Steve Vasturia, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from Notre Dame, and Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige from North Carolina.
Now, both teams look to conjure up success similar to the level of play they displayed during the ACC Tournament and translate it to the national stage at the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina is a four seed in the West region and will take on the 13-seeded Harvard Crimson on Thursday, March 19 at 7:20 PM.
Notre Dame received a three seed in the Midwest region and will play the 14 seed, Northeastern, on Thursday, March 19 at 12:15 PM.