MONROE >> There was plenty of words you can use to describe Notre Dame-Fairfield’s South-West Conference boys basketball championship game performance.
Brilliance, for the way the second-seeded Lancers rallied from down 13 points after one quarter to defeat top-seeded Immaculate 76-64 at Masuk High Thursday night.
Redemption, for Notre Dame guard Jesse McIntosh, who injured his right knee in this game last year and missed Notre Dame’s run to the Class M state final. He scored 22 points Thursday and was named the MVP.
“I worked hard, through therapy, the summer league, the fall league,” McIntosh said. “I’m just happy and grateful I was able to come back and play.”
But the word that may best describe the outcome: vindication. That was coach Vin Laczkoski’s word to describe his feelings after the two weeks he went through.
An alleged incident that took part at practice late last month led to Laczkoski being suspended for four games while an independent agency completed its investigation. That included the first two games of the SWC tournament. Notre Dame went 4-0 during that stretch.
Laczkoski was cleared of wrongdoing on Wednesday and Notre Dame cleared him to coach the Lancers (20-3) Thursday morning.
“I won last week when I started getting memos and everything from my kids. I won last week when (assistant coaches) Stevie Ray and Desmond Artis led these kids,” Laczkoski said. “I’m happy these kids showed the world what loyalty, dedication and togetherness is. What they’ve done the last two weeks is amazing. Good stuff.”
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Said McIntosh: “Everybody was always asking questions. We didn’t really know, we just had to play through it and wait until he came back.”
It didn’t look good early as the Mustangs (20-3), which won the regular-season meeting, jumped out to a 21-8 lead after one quarter, shooting 75 percent from the floor.
Notre Dame had a 12-0 run in the second quarter, switching to a 1-3-1 half-court trap to close within 23-22.
The lead changed hands five times to start the second half. A McIntosh 3-pointer put the Lancers ahead for good 42-41 a little more than 3 minutes into the third quarter.
Immaculate’s shooting percentage dropped to “only” 70 percent at halftime and 64 percent through three quarters. Yet the Mustangs trailed by 6 (57-51), thanks to Notre Dame having an incredible shooting 3rd quarter itself, 11 of 15, including four threes.
“We let it get away from us in that third quarter there,” Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos said. “We were one and out and they were running and getting easy buckets. They are as athletic as all heck.”
Immaculate then went cold at the most inopportune time. The Mustangs shot 4 of 16 in the final quarter.
“They did it last time to us the same way, but they didn’t stop,” Laczkoski said about Immaculate. “This time, it was a little bit different. They started getting forced out a little bit further.”
Notre Dame kept attacking in the fourth quarter. Then, once the Lancers entered the bonus and then went up by nine at the 2-minute mark, they were more than content to let the Mustangs chase them.
Darius Smith led Immaculate with 17 points. Noreaga Davis added 21 points for Notre Dame, which wins its first conference title since 2011.
“All that hard work we put in the preseason, the running and lifting, just for this,” Laczkoski said.
Now Notre Dame tries to make a return trip to the Class M final as the No. 6 seed. Now, the Lancers are complete once again.
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD 76, IMMACULATE 64
Notre Dame 8 21 28 19 – 76
Immaculate 21 12 18 13 – 64
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (76)
Jesse McIntosh 6 6-7 22, Colin Burke 3 1-2 7, Jordan Pettway 3 7-7 14, Norega Davis 9 2-5 20, Gio Cagnazzo 3 2-2 10, Xavier Giddens 0 0-0 0, Tom Gerling 1 0-0 3. Totals: 25 18-23 76
Griffen Hewley 1 0-0 3, Darius Hunter 4 3-3 13, Darius Smith 7 1-3 17, Alex Garbo 3 1-2 7, Ronan Doherty 5 0-0 14, Will Hatcher 5 0-0 10. Totals: 25 5-8 64
3-point goals: Notre Dame-Fairfield 8 (McIntosh 4, Pettway 1, Cagnazzo 2, Gerling 1); Immaculate 9 (Hewley 1, Hunter 2, Smith 2, Doherty 4); Fouled out: Immaculate (Hunter); Records: Notre Dame-Fairfield 20-3; Immaculate 20-3
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