Notre Dame was a few minutes and a couple shots from winning its second Atlantic Coast Conference championship in three years.
The Irish, who lost 75-69 to Duke on Saturday night, won’t hang a banner for their runner-up finish. But according to junior point guard Matt Farrell, that loss can “absolutely” be a motivator entering the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not a good feeling, so we can remember how it feels after that loss,” Farrell said. “It wasn’t easy. We’ve got to learn from it and use it as motivation.”
Notre Dame got a No. 5 seed in the West Region of the NCAA bracket. The Irish will play 12th-seeded Princeton on Thursday at 12:15 p.m., the first game of tournament. It will be broadcast on CBS.
Though the Irish suffered a tough loss, the players inside the locker room Sunday evening spoke at length about the improvements they made in Brooklyn. Notre Dame knocked off Virginia and Florida State to reach the finals, likely improving its seeding along the way.
Saturday night’s loss to Duke — and the ACC Tournament in general — could be extremely valuable for the team moving into NCAAs.
“We learned a lot about ourselves and we learned what we need to do better,” said Farrell, who head coach Mike Brey said took the loss the hardest. “That’s what you’ve got to do in a situation like that. We played really well, gave ourselves a chance to win and sometimes the chips fall where they fall and sometimes the most important thing is learning from that.”
Senior guard Steve Vasturia and senior wing V.J. Beachem are making their final trip to the NCAA Tournament, having gone 6-2 the past two seasons in reaching back-to-back Elite Eights.
Vasturia said he’s careful not to lean too much on that experience, but that it is valuable at this point in the season.
“Experience is definitely a big thing,” Vasturia said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve won games in the tournament and that definitely helps. It’s a different task, it’s a different tournament.”
Notre Dame’s success the past two seasons has risen the profile of the program. That’s reflected in some of the national media. ESPN’s Jay Bilas has the Irish beating No. 1 Gonzaga and reaching the Elite Eight. USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach has Notre Dame making the Final Four in her bracket.
That doesn’t mean the players are putting pressure on themselves to live up to that.
“From the outside people may expect a little more when the postseason comes around, but as far as us personally, it’s great confidence because we’ve been able to do it before and draw from that experience,” Beachem said. “But it’s not like we’re putting any pressure on ourselves.”
Though it was just minutes after the bracket was unveiled, Notre Dame’s players gave their opinions of a Princeton team that won the Ivy League championship on Sunday.
“They’re doing really well right now, they’re on a hot streak,” sophomore wing Rex Pflueger said. “It should be fun to go against a team that’s confident and also has a great basketball IQ. It should be an interesting game because a lot of people call us a very high IQ team, so it’ll be a lot like guarding us in practice going against them."
“We’re matched up with a really good team, won their conference and won their conference tournament as well,” said Vasturia. “That’s going to be a good matchup, and just excited to keep going and compete in the tournament again.”
The winner of Thursday’s game will face either fourth-seeded West Virginia or 13th-seeded Bucknell on Saturday.