It seems like everyone has a Notre Dame story. The one the late Jack Fleming used to love to tell took place in 1974 – the first time he called a West Virginia basketball game at the Athletic and Convocation Center, today known as the Joyce Center.
That was the game when Adrian Dantley lit up the Mountaineers for 41 in a 108-80 Irish blowout. Dantley and teammate John Shumate played great against the Mountaineers, but what really piqued the interest of Fleming took place right before tipoff.
The two officials working that Saturday afternoon had made their way out into the arena and were standing along the baseline when the announcement was made over the public address system for everyone to rise for the singing of Notre Dame’s alma mater.
All of a sudden, the two referees assigned to work the game that afternoon spontaneously put their hands over their hearts and began singing right along with the rest of the crowd.
“Right then I realized we were in big trouble!” Fleming joked.
Former West Virginia coach Sonny Moran also remembered getting the Notre Dame treatment once down in New Orleans during the Sugar Bowl Classic, a game the Irish pulled out at the end 84-80.
As Moran remembers it, West Virginia was beating Johnny Dee’s talented Irish club midway through the second half when one of the Notre Dame players, in frustration, swung an elbow and caught West Virginia center Mike Heitz square in the jaw and knocked him to the ground. Moran thought the player should have been ejected from the game.
“Ralph Stout was officiating and I gave Ralph the devil many times after that and he said, ‘Well, I probably should have called it but it was the other man’s call.’ All they did was call a foul,” Moran said.
Notre Dame came back to win behind Austin Carr’s 27 points, but what really stuck in Moran’s craw was what he saw after the game before he went into the locker room.
“The other official who was working with Ralph Stout, he and Johnny Dee were hugging at midcourt. I thought to myself ‘what in the heck kind of situation are we in today?’” said Moran.
A few years later, when Digger Phelps became Notre Dame’s coach, the rivarly amplified for West Virginians because Phelps had a unique way of getting under people’s skin. Former Mountaineer coach Joedy Gardner counts his ’77 victory over Digger as one of his best wins at West Virginia, mainly because of the way Phelps had acted before, during and after the game.
“He was coming into our gym and we’re practicing and he gave the impression that they were the hottest thing in basketball,” Gardner recalled. “I said ‘there is a reason we play the game.’ After the game, he didn’t even walk over (to shake Gardner’s hand). He just took off and went to the dressing room.”
Until recently, Notre Dame had enjoyed great success against West Virginia, particularly at the WVU Coliseum. Current Irish coach Mike Brey is 12-5 against the Mountaineers and he once ran off a streak of nine consecutive wins before finally losing to WVU in 2006 – John Beilein’s only victory over Notre Dame while at West Virginia.
“We’ve had some good nights in Morgantown,” said Brey earlier this week. “I don’t know what our record is in that building, but in my 12 years here we’ve had some fun nights and we’ve had some nightmare nights as well.
“Certainly, they have a great crowd. I’m always impressed with the energy and their home atmosphere,” said Brey. “They love their basketball and they’ve been doing it at a high level for a long time. But, you love playing in those atmospheres and I think our kids love playing in those atmospheres.”
All told, the two schools have met 37 times on the hardwood with Notre Dame owning a commanding 25-12 advantage. However, the Mountaineers have been able to chip away of late, capturing four out of the last five heading into Wednesday night’s game.
In advance of that, here are seven West Virginia wins over Notre Dame worth remembering:1. Feb. 1, 2006 – West Virginia 71, Notre Dame 70
Notre Dame rallied from down 71-65 in the final minute to nearly pull off its 10th straight win over West Virginia, ranked 11th in the country at the time following wins over Oklahoma, Marquette and UCLA. But Chris Quinn missed a running jumper in the lane at the buzzer to preserve the Mountaineers’ 71-70 victory - John Beilein’s lone win against Notre Dame as West Virginia’s coach. “Tonight’s game wasn’t about who had better players or better coaches,” said Beilein. “That shot was all about luck. We had some good luck and they had some bad luck.” 2. March 12, 2010 – West Virginia 53, Notre Dame 51
West Virginia watched its 10-point second half lead evaporate right in front of its eyes in the semifinal round of the 2010 Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden. Missed free throws by the Mountaineers got Notre Dame back into the game, and the Irish eventually pulled to within two, 53-51, on two Ben Hansbrough free throws. Da’Sean Butler’s missed 3-point try with 12 seconds left gave Notre Dame an opportunity to win the game, but Tory Jackson missed a 3-point try from the top of the key with four seconds left and Wellington Smith was able to strip Tyrone Nash before he could attempt a game tying put-back. “I’m starting to have a lot of confidence in our guys screwing up enough to let them back into the game,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins joked afterward.
3. February 19, 1977 – West Virginia 81, Notre Dame 68
| ||Forward Maurice Robinson scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to help West Virginia upset Notre Dame 81-68 in Morgantown in 1977.|
WVU Sports Communications photo
Maurice Robinson scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead West Virginia to an 81-68 victory over a Notre Dame team that came into the Coliseum riding a nine-game winning streak. The Mountaineers jumped out to an early double-digit advantage and led by 13 at halftime. Midway through the second half, the Irish scored seven straight to cut West Virginia’s lead to five, 55-50, but Bob Huggins scored back-to-back baskets and Robinson hit a layup to put the margin back to 11. Huggins made five of seven from the floor to add 14 points in a winning cause.4. January 17, 1987 – West Virginia 57, Notre Dame 55
J.J. Crawl’s pair of free throws with eight seconds left gave the Mountaineers enough breathing room to defeat Notre Dame 57-55 in South Bend. West Virginia played a good portion of the second half without top forward Darryl Prue, who fouled out, and top guard Herbie Brooks, who suffered a head contusion while fighting for a rebound underneath the basket. Crawl had 15 for West Virginia and held Notre Dame’s top player, David Rivers, to just 7 points on one of seven shooting. Later that year, Notre Dame knocked off No. 1-ranked North Carolina and also topped 15th-ranked Duke and fourth-ranked DePaul on the way to a 24-win season.5. January 27, 1996 – West Virginia 69, Notre Dame 59
Guard Cyrus Jones scored 19 points and Notre Dame missed some big free throws down the stretch to help West Virginia collect its first road victory of the season – and the school’s first-ever road win in Big East play. But instead of asking Coach Gale Catlett about that, the first question reporters asked him afterward was about his decision to banish starting forward Gordon Malone to the locker room during the game. After chiding them for bringing up such a thorny subject, Catlett went on to call it a “monumental win” for the program. Considering the circumstances, it probably was.6. February 3, 1972 – West Virginia 97, Notre Dame 87
Notre Dame was on its way to a non-descript 6-20 record under first-year coach Digger Phelps, but what made this victory so memorable for West Virginia was the circumstances surrounding the game. It was the first win for the Mountaineers following the tragic automobile accident that claimed the life of Larry Harris and the playing career of Sam Oglesby. Academic suspensions and injuries had whittled the Mountaineers’ roster down to eight players, one of them being Sistersville forward Mike Carson, who came off the bench to hit three big shots from the wing to help the Mountaineers to their 10-point win. The rest of the scoring came from Wil Robinson (39), Curt Price (16) and Mike Heitz (14).7. January 25, 1997 – West Virginia 67, Notre Dame 66
Damian Owens made two free throws with two seconds left to lift West Virginia to a 67-66 victory over Notre Dame at the WVU Coliseum. Owens was sent to the line with 6.9 seconds left when Notre Dame’s Derek Manner was called for a blocking foul during Owens’ drive to the basket. After Owens’ two free throws, Notre Dame had two chances for the final shot. WVU deflected a three-quarter court pass out of bounds and then, with a tenth of a second remaining, Admore White’s high lob in front of the rim couldn’t be controlled as the horn sounded. Owens outscored Notre Dame’s Pat Garrity 25-22 in a matchup of all-conference forwards.