Notre Dame Should Always Remember the Titans
But the biggest buzz generated Saturday in the first set of NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament first-round games came in South Bend, where second-seeded Notre Dame survived -- barely -- an upset bid by a Detroit Mercy team that just two weeks ago was 2-9 and needed to win the weak MAAC conference to make the dance at 5-9.
No MAAC representative had ever won an NCAA tournament game. Nor had a sub-.500 team.
But there were the Titans, a devil-may-care collection of overlooked players from Canada and the Midwest, imposing their will on the Fighting Irish, a final four favorite since the season started.
For three quarters, Notre Dame had no answer for Detroit Mercy's rangy defensemen -- namely Jordan Houtby, the senior Canadian national team hopeful whose 158 career caused turnovers are the most by any player since the NCAA started tracking them in 2010.
For three quarters, the Titans reduced the Irish's well-reputed defense to ball-watchers and bystanders, as they expertly milked possessions and capitalized in timer-on situations.
For three quarters, Notre Dame looked lost on faceoffs, making Damien Hicks look like Alex Smith as he won nine of the first 12 draws.
Detroit Mercy was on the brink of the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.
And then Irish coach Kevin Corrigan did his best Mickey Goldmill impression.
You remember The Mick, don't you? He was Rocky Balboa's trainer, played by the late Burgess Meredith, in the "Rocky" films. In "Rocky II," Mickey trains Rocky to fight right-handed, even though he's a lefty. Rocky takes Apollo Creed to the 15th round, at which point Mickey gives Rocky the green light to switch back to southpaw, turning the tide of the fight.
Corrigan knew despite trailing for most of the game Saturday that the Irish had superior athletes. In his back pocket, he had Notre Dame's seldom-used 10-man ride. And he showed remarkable restraint, waiting until the start of the fourth quarter to unleash it.
Like the rejuvenated Rocky, the Irish came out swinging. They rode like their lives depended on it, forced six Detroit Mercy turnovers, won six of seven faceoffs, scored four goals in the first five minutes to tie the game at 7 and eventually won 9-7.
"We waited as long as we thought we could and then went 10-man [ride]. You can't do that for an entire half or else your guys will die," Corrigan said afterward. "We changed the tempo and then got some possessions and got the ball in space for some of our offensive guys who were able to make plays."
The "Rocky" analogy works, until you realize that in this game, Notre Dame was Apollo. That the Irish had to resort to such gimmickry should sound alarms everywhere in South Bend. Whether Notre Dame plays Duke or Loyola next week in Indianapolis, where the Irish will be the de facto home team, it better not take 45 minutes for them to show that sense of urgency.
That would ensure an ending as bad as the street fight in "Rocky V."