You may have missed it, but the defining game of the 2019-20 college basketball season was played Thursday evening. I’m not talking about the game featuring top-ranked Duke or one of the early season tournament tilts that tipped off in Charleston or Myrtle Beach. I’m talking about Notre Dame vs. Toledo, a game that seems fairly straightforward on paper, but which demands a spot in the damn Louvre when you actually look at the details.
We start with four minutes to go in the second half, because that’s where all great college basketball stories begin. With Notre Dame trailing by five points and looking to make one last push to avoid an upset, this call happened ...
Lol what in the world is this call? pic.twitter.com/3M8gqUghmE— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) November 22, 2019
I mean it’s impossible for a call to be worse than this. pic.twitter.com/sH21rtcZdC— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) November 22, 2019
A few brave contrarians have attempted to make the case that the Toledo defender was pushed into John Mooney or that there’s some other way to explain this that makes sense. The fact of the matter is the foul was called on Mooney, the dude standing flat-footed with the ball who was absolutely run over.
While most of the attention here, understandably, is on either the call itself or the typically mild-mannered Mike Brey losing his shit, let’s not lose sight of the reaction of Toledo’s Keshaun Sanders (a fine player, by the way).
Sanders’ reaction would lead you to believe that this was all part of some grand scheme. That he had studied the tendencies of this officiating crew, seen his opportunity to make a play that would befuddle the rest of the country, and capitalized at the perfect moment. The “LET’S GOOOO” scream and flex that typically accompanies a standard charge take is the perfect cherry on top of this most awkward of basketball sundaes.
Anyway, Brey was hit with a technical foul, Toledo’s Marreon Jackson made both free throws, and the Rockets seemed to seize total control of the game. And if you’re thinking that the officiating crew, racked by guilt or feeling the heat of the home crowd, suddenly changed course and started calling everything for Notre Dame, you’d be wrong. In the next minute, yet another foul call that appeared dubious at best was whistled on the Irish, and a ball that clearly appeared to go out-of-bounds off a Toledo player was awarded to the Rockets.
Almost unbelievably, things get better from here.
Through a bizarre sequence of events that included two Toledo missed free throws and two Toledo turnovers in the span of 30 seconds, Notre Dame was gifted multiple opportunities to tie the game or take the lead near the end of regulation. Finally, down three and with just seconds to play, the Irish had one final shot to extend the game. That shot wound up in the hands of TJ Gibbs, the team’s second-leading scorer and leader in three-pointers made.
It was the perfect setup for an all-time moment in South Bend. Except ...
Ok this is the greatest game ever played. pic.twitter.com/Jw9YYPG9YH— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) November 22, 2019
That’s the ACC Network’s Jay Alter with the “WEDGIE!” call, which now exists in the same realm as “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES!” and “I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW!” in the world of greatest in the moment sports calls. The best commentators always rise to the level of the moment. (Ed. note: Shouts to Skeets and Tas)
Also of note here is that Gibbs appears to be clotheslined by the Toledo defender, but once again, the non-existent home court whistle is swallowed and the Irish don’t get the benefit of a call.
In the moment, this seems to be a fittingly embarrassing end to a fairly embarrassing loss for Notre Dame. But once that initial wave of embarrassment wears off, the realization sets in that this was actually the only possible occurrence that could have kept the Irish alive.
If the Gibbs’ shot caroms off the rim normally, there is zero chance Notre Dame has enough time to collect the rebound kick the ball back outside, and take another shot at tying the game. Without the wedgie, the clock runs out and the Toledo Rockets are celebrating inside Purcell Pavilion. With the wedgie, the play turns into a jump ball, and the arrow is with the Irish. The officials look at the clock and set it at 1.5 seconds, giving Brey’s team one final shot at avoiding an upset.
GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED pic.twitter.com/QofAkwIkt0— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) November 22, 2019
That’s Nate Laszewski playing hero. The same Nate Laszewski who, before that shot, had been just 3-for-22 from beyond the arc on the season and 1-for-6 in the game. If he uses this shot as the jumping off point to a scorching hot season from three, he’ll only have the wedgie shot to thank.
Overtime is gross. Notre Dame only makes two field goals, but that doesn’t matter because Toledo only makes one.
This is the one:
Final: Notre Dame 64, Toledo 59— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) November 22, 2019
This shot went in.
Send the game footage straight to Springfield. pic.twitter.com/M8nPJlNn2K
The officials, staying true to their brand right until the final whistle, aren’t even paying attention to the fact that this three-quarter court heave has been attempted (neither, apparently, is the ACC Network camera crew) and initially the shot isn’t counted. A review after the game confirms that Marreon Jackson released the shot before time expired, and a final score of Notre Dame 64, Toledo 62 is set in stone. Those final three points allowed the second half “over” total to hit.
Put this game in a museum where it can be properly appreciated for generations to come.