LAHAINA, Hawaii — The list of champions at the Maui Invitational includes some of the best programs in college basketball. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Arizona.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey believed his team belonged up there, too.
Now they are after a gritty comeback against one of the nation’s top teams.
Martinas Geben hit two free throws with 2.3 seconds left and No. 13 Notre Dame rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat No. 6 Wichita State 67-66 in the Maui Invitational championship game on Wednesday night.
“We wanted to have our name up on this wall, we felt our program was one of those programs that deserved to be on the Maui wall here,” Brey said. “I’m thrilled that it is now.”
Notre Dame (6-0) trailed most of the game, but clawed its way back in the second half, using a zone to slow the high-scoring Shockers (4-1) and working the ball inside on offense.
Their first Maui title came with a little luck of the Irish.
One came during their second-half comeback, when T.J. Gibbs banked in a 3-pointer. Another came when Wichita State’s Austin Reaves, a 75 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Notre Dame a chance, trailing by one with 13 seconds left.
Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell had a driving layup blocked, but a jump ball followed and the Irish had possession. Geben was fouled by Shaquille Morris on the inbounds play and his first free throw appeared to be headed out of the rim before bouncing back in.
He sank the second one cleanly and Wichita State fumbled away its final possession, sending Notre Dame to its first Maui title in three trips.
“We fight, we give it all every game,” said Bonzi Colson, who finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds. “Wichita State hit some shots, but we kept our composure”
The Maui Invitational has a history of marquee matchups in the title game and this one was no different.
Wichita State and Notre Dame were the only ranked teams in the field, a pair of programs loaded with talent, depth and Final Four aspirations.
The Irish flexed their muscles in overpowering their first two Maui opponents, crushing Division II Chaminade and LSU.
The Shockers had a little rougher ride in their opener, needing to rally from 18 down to beat California before rolling over Marquette in the semifinals.
Their meeting in the title game matched two of the nation’s most efficient offenses.
Wichita State happens to be pretty good on defense, too, and muddled things up for the Irish in the early going, denying passes, contesting perimeter shots and clogging the paint on the Irish’s drives.
The Shockers were just as good on offense, building an 11-point lead midway through the first half and going up 37-23 at halftime after making 15 of 30 shots, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range.
Notre Dame started going inside in the second half and turned to a zone defense, scratching the Shockers’ lead down to 55-50.
“I don’t think we attacked the middle of the zone the best we could,” said Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp, who had 12 points.
Gibbs’ banked-in 3-pointer and a traditional one by Colson made it a three-point game with 5 minutes left.
Trailing all night, the Irish were back in it — and made the most of it with a strong finish and two big free throws.
“I thought it was a great college basketball game,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “Obviously, I wish it had ended 3 seconds sooner.”
Wichita State held its own with one the nation’s best teams, doing it with forward Markis McDuffie still out with a foot injury.
Notre Dame showed a lot of grit in its first real test of the season, fighting its way back to beat a top-10 team.
Wichita State took away the first two cuts on Notre Dame’s final play, but fouled up the last one, leading to the foul by Morris and the free throws by Geben. “One of the last things I said to them was don’t help,” Marshall said. “Guard your man. We take away certain things and we belly-up. We show our hands and we fight screens. Somebody helped, and they were smart and looked for them.”
Wichita State hosts Savannah State on Tuesday.
Notre Dame plays at No. 4 Michigan State on Nov. 30.