It took two overtime periods to do it, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish eventually outlasted the Jackets by an 83-76 final in what was Tech's first conference game of the season. It was a valiant effort by Marcus Georges-Hunt and company, but one which would eventually fall short in South Bend.
Despite the outcome, I'd call this game the best overall performance by the Jackets so far this season. Notre Dame was ranked 14th in the nation coming into the swing with wins over some very successful programs and boasted the third highest-scoring offense in the entire nation at over 86 points per game. Outside of a few lapses in the paint, it was a very sound and possibly even dominant defensive performance by the Jackets, who held the Irish to just 83 points even with 10 extra minutes. Tech held Notre Dame to just 59 points in regular time, which would've been far and away their lowest point total so far this season.
It is also worth noting that the Jackets didn't allow an offensive rebound to Notre Dame for the entire regular period, a 40 minute stretch. Tech would win the rebounding battle 40-29, a sizable 11 rebound margin. The Jackets even forced 13 turnovers, the most Notre Dame had committed in a game all season.
Even the Tech offense, which has been suspect at times this season, was able to hold its own against a very stout Irish defense. The Jackets shot just 41% from the floor, but offensive rebounding was key in negating the poor shooting percentage -- many of Tech's baskets came off of tip-ins by Charles Mitchell, Demarco Cox, and Robert Sampson. Tech was even able to make some perimeter magic, connecting on 31% of their three point attempts compared to just 21% for Notre Dame.
Perhaps the biggest development from the game was Tech's tremendous improvement in free throw shooting. The Jackets were hitting from the stripe at just a 64% clip coming into the game, but shot 85% from the line against the Irish.
The biggest contributor for Tech was Marcus Georges-Hunt, who finished with a team high 20 points and 8 rebounds. He looked great driving in the lane and was even able to connect on a couple of first half threes. Charles Mitchell finished with 14 points and a team leading 12 rebounds in what was a great game for him. Chris Bolden fouled out in the first overtime with 14 points and looked like a totally different player than last season; he had some nice success driving to the basket. While Bolden's offense was great, his defense was so bad at times that the South Bend crowd actually booed when he fouled out.
On the Notre Dame side of things, star guard Jerian Grant led the way with 24 points and 6 assists. He showed some flashes of crazy athleticism, even taking flight for an SC Top 10-worthy dunk at one point (see the video below). Fellow guard Steve Vasturia would finish with 17 points and 6 rebounds while forward Pat Connaughton added 10 points, including a rise-up three which would be the dagger for Tech.
You can even see that he used the defender Tadric Jackson to get some more air. That was just a crazy dunk and a total defensive lapse by the Jackets.
It's amazing that Tech bested Notre Dame in just about every category except for the one which actually matters -- the final score. This was a quality loss if there ever was such a thing, and it was a game that we should all be proud of. The Jackets showed tremendous guts coming into hostile territory and almost coming away with a win. This team could be capable of much more than we all thought possible.
What did this loss tell us about the 2014 team?