1978-1979 Fighting Irish fall to Magic Johnson in the Elite Eight.
The follow-up campaign to the lone Final Four appearance in Notre Dame basketball history saw more regular and post-season success for the highly talented Irish. Led by Bill Lambieer, Orlando Woolridge and second-team All American Kelly Tripucka, the Irish amassed 22 wins and earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Tripucka’s selection as a sophomore is particularly impressive considering names like “Magic Johnson” and “Larry Bird” populated the first-team All American list.
In the newly expanded format that featured 40 teams, Notre Dame faced the winner of a first round game in the second round. That winner would be Tennessee. The Irish dispatched the Volunteers in a close one, 73-67. The Sweet Sixteen and a matchup with five seed Toledo then awaited Notre Dame. The Irish bounced Toledo 79-71, earning the Irish a trip to the Elite Eight in Indianapolis.
The Elite Eight matchup between Notre Dame and Magic Johson’s Michigan State was a matchup of the fourth and fifth ranked teams in the nation, both of which had been ranked number one at some point. The game itself was billed as one that “could be the national championship”, but Magic Johnson’s full array of skills was on display that day. From playground passes to alley-oops, the Irish fell behind by as much as 10 in the second half. The Spartans would salt away an 80-68 victory in the final five minutes, and go on to win the national title in the monumental Magic Jonson vs. Larry Bird and Indiana State game. However, the Elite Eight appearance in a huge year for the sport was another building block in the tradition of Notre Dame Basketball and Digger Phelps’ legacy.
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