BUFFALO, N.Y. — Notre Dame was able to gut out a victory in its NCAA Tournament opener after being bloodied, bruised and threatened until the final whistle.
Bonzie Colson overcame a sore ankle to score 18 points and grab seven rebounds as the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish held on to defeat No. 12 seed Princeton, 60-58, on Thursday at KeyBank Center to advance to the second round in theWest region.
Matt Farrell added 16 points and four assists for the Irish but made some uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch. Steve Vasturia had 10 points and eight rebounds. Rex Pflueger had to have a gash above his eye glued shut during the first half but returned to play a key role in a perimeter defensive effort that held Princeton to 8 of 31 shooting from 3-point range.
“No matter how we looked, we got the win,” Colson said. “That’s all that matters.”
Notre Dame (26-9) is the only team to reach the Elite Eight round of the past two NCAA Tournaments, and that experience helped them survive this game.
“This nucleus of guys just feel like, as this thing was getting close, well, that’s what we did all last year,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We just stole wins to get to the Elite Eight.”
For Princeton (23-7), the loss snapped a 19-game winning streak that was one short of the school record, set during the 1997-98 season. The Ivy League champion entered its 25th NCAA Tournament and first since 2011 with the nation’s second-longest winning streak after Vermont (21 games).
“This will hurt,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “But then we’re going to get together and celebrate what the season was.”
Spencer Weisz led the Tigers with 15 points. Steven Cook had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Notre Dame led for nearly the entire game but didn’t close out the victory until the final seconds. Colson scored on consecutive possessions to keep the Irish ahead, but Princeton got within 59-58 with 12.8 seconds left when Pete Miller tipped in Cook’s missed 3-pointer.
After Farrell missed the front end of a one-and-one, Princeton’s Devin Cannady hit the back rim on a potentially go-ahead 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds remaining.
“I looked at the rim and when the ball left my hand, I thought it was good,” Cannady said. “It didn’t go in and that’s what happen when you take those shots. It either does or doesn’t. In this case, it didn’t and the rest is …”
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, the Tigers roared back to nearly pull off the upset. Cannady converted a four-point play to start a 9-2 run and Cook’s corner 3-pointer cut Notre Dame’s lead to 55-54 with 3:20 remaining.
Farrell made his third 3-pointer and fed Colson for a dunk that gave Notre Dame its largest lead at 45-34 early in the second half.
Notre Dame went into halftime ahead 36-30. Farrell hit two 3-pointers in the opening minutes, then the Irish operated inside for the rest of the half, scoring 28 of their next 30 points in the paint or at the foul line. Colson scored 10 of his points in the first half.
Princeton led for just 17 seconds of the first half, going up 17-15 on Amir Bell’s and-one layup 8:36 into the game.
— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sat behind the Notre Dame bench. Christie’s daughter, Sarah, is one of the Irish student managers. His son, Andrew, played baseball for Princeton.
— Ivy League teams have won first-round games in four of the last eight NCAA Tournaments and each of the losses have been by single digits.
— Notre Dame has won seven NCAA Tournament games over the past three seasons, matching the most victories the program has had in any four-year span.
— Farrell has made a 3-pointer in 25 straight games.
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Published: Aug 15, 2017, 3:40 pm.