Now firmly entrenched as Notre Dame point guard, Matt Farrell averaged 19 points and six assists per game in two-game Legends Classic stint, guiding Notre Dame to tournament victory. (Photo by University of Notre Dame Athletics)
BROOKLYN -- No matter the year, Notre Dame has almost always had not only an experienced core, but a seasoned veteran leading the offense at the point guard spot. It is these two consistent factors that have kept the Fighting Irish in the NCAA Tournament on a seemingly perpetual basis, with each of the last two trips to the field of 68 culminating in regional final appearances to shake the reputation of not being able to win the big game.
The past two nights gave way to the latest sheriff of South Bend, in the form of junior Matt Farrell. Now in an unquestioned role of making the motor run for the Irish, the New Jersey native took his game to even higher levels this week, averaging 19 points and six assists over the two-game Legends Classic, committing just one cumulative turnover as Notre Dame remained undefeated at Barclays Center with thrilling victories over Colorado and Northwestern.
"Last year, I kind of had a different role playing with Demetrius (Jackson)," Farrell said of his evolution five games into his junior season. "This year is kind of more my team, so I wanted to try to take control from the beginning, be more aggressive, just make plays for other guys. I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be more vocal. That's helping my game."
That guy just happened to be the deciding factor in a contest that closely resembled Notre Dame's near-upset turned escape against Stephen F. Austin in last March's NCAA Tournament, coincidentally in the same building. Trailing 64-58 with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, Farrell picked up two assists along with a steal and a defensive rebound as the Irish regained a one-point lead before Bryant McIntosh's jumper swung the advantage back to Northwestern inside the final minute. But on the ensuing possession, Steve Vasturia was able to procure the ball for Farrell to finish a scoop layup and conventional three-point play with 14.7 seconds on the clock, giving Notre Dame the lead for good. He would then hit two free throws in the waning seconds to score the final five points in a game-ending 12-2 run to pick up what head coach Mike Brey termed a second resume win in as many nights.
"I've had some really good ones," Brey said of his point guard lineage, a group that includes Chris Thomas, Chris Quinn, Tory Jackson, Kyle McAlarney, Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson; a rich tapestry that now adds Farrell to its weaving. "You know what? When it's all said and done; now everybody saw it nationally, he'll be there with any of them."
As Notre Dame continues on this season into higher-profile games, first against Villanova in two weeks at the Prudential Center before the rigors of the Atlantic Coast Conference slate, confidence and a rising star quality become prerequisites to long-term success, and the foundation for a potential third deep run through March in as many seasons is certainly stable after seeing the past two nights yield spectacular results."
"This has been blossoming since March," Brey proudly gushed. "Watching him through the summer, I don't think the staff or his teammates are shocked. There's an edge about him and a fearlessness about him, and I am just so thrilled that he's coming out of here a really confident guy, and really knows he's got the keys to the car."