The Irish had a slow start following St. Patrick's Day.
The Fighting Irish, that is.
Notre Dame dug itself an early hole that it never could quite dig out of Saturday in an 83-71 loss to West Virginia at KeyBank Center. Playing in the first NCAA Tournament game of the day, West Virginia was ready for the 12:10 p.m. tip, racing out to a 10-0 lead and forcing Irish coach Mike Brey to call a timeout even before the first TV break.
“I think we were awake and ready to play,” Brey said. “I don't think we were turning the ball over at that time to give them the 10-0 lead. I think it was, you know, missing some stuff.”
The Irish did get some looks that they normally knock down, but opened the game by missing their first five shots.
“We may have been shocked we were so open because we were really prepared for them to be after us,” Brey said.
Eventually, that pressure defense West Virginia is known for started yielding results. The Irish turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, after having just six in 40 minutes of Thursday’s win over Princeton.
“They obviously want to turn you over,” Notre Dame senior Steve Vasturia said of the Mountaineers. “If not, they want to get you out of your rhythm.”
Wire to wire: West Virginia led for all 40 minutes. A pair of free throws from Notre Dame's T.J. Gibbs with 4:31 left in the first half cut West Virginia's lead to 32-29, but that was as close as the Fighting Irish would get. Any time Notre Dame started to cut into the Mountaineers' lead, someone from West Virginia would step up to hit a shot.
“It does break your spirit,” Brey said. “I've got a really mentally tough group, but that was a real mental test today. Because any time we thought we'd get this thing to four or get it to two possessions, somebody hit a big three or they got a putback. It's really spirit-breaking after a while, and it does wear on our group.”
Carrying the load: Notre Dame’s only consistent offensive threat was forward Bonzie Colson. The 6-foot-5 junior finished with a game-high 27 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, to go along with eight rebounds. Colson did all that while playing through a nagging ankle injury.
“He puts the team on his back and he’s not 100 percent,” Brey said. “That ankle is bothering him. That’s one of the great performances, just trying to carry a team on a bad wheel.”
Colson played the last 10 minutes of the game with four fouls. Brey said there was no thought to taking him out after he picked up the fourth foul.
Saying goodbye: With 30 seconds left, Brey removed Vasturia and fellow senior V.J. Beachem so that the big crowd of Irish supporters could give them a proper send-off. Vasturia finished with 11 points, while Beachem struggled by going just 2 of 14 from the field in scoring nine.