Irish fall into familiar rut as Wake Forest dials up from long distance
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — What is there to hope for in a season where the coach is a lame duck, the team is in 14th place in the 15-team ACC and the future of the program is in flux?
A spirited effort, perhaps an occasional upset win, maybe some flash for next year for players like JJ Starling and Matt Zona, if they stick around after Notre Dame coach Mike Brey steps away.
Even winning two straight games in the ACC — something the Irish men’s basketball team hasn’t done all year — could be considered a step in the right direction for a program that is searching for the tiniest sliver of a rainbow it can grab onto.
Notre Dame (10-13, 2-10) got mostly the spirited effort in the first half in its 81-64 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion, unable to extend momentum from its 14-point victory over Louisville last Saturday.
It was a familiar story.
The Irish play hard but fail to do enough right to beat a middle-of-the-road ACC team.
They played similarly well in both halves. It's just that the Demon Deacons (15-9, 7-6) took it to a level that Notre Dame just can’t seem ever to get to in the second half.
The Irish were outscored by 29 points after it led by 12 points in the first half.
Notre Dame’s Achilles: Three-point shooting and a Wake Forest 3-point shooting barrage after intermission that turned a competitive game into a rout after making 3-of-11 in the first half.
Notre Dame was 4-of-21 from the arc for the game and it didn’t make its first 3-pointer until the second half. Wake Forest finished 14-of-30 from 3-point range.
Making 3-point shots is a habit for the Demon Deacons. They were third in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage, making 37.5% of them.
Brey knew the ticking time bomb could go off. He was hoping to avoid it or at least have his team in a position to match some of the 3-point shooting from Wake Forest.
“That was a display of firepower,” Brey said. “We knew they had it, but they did have some breakdowns but man, they made some tough ones."
The Irish were taken out with the equivalent of a left hook when the Demon Deacons started the second half by making their first four 3-pointers and seven of their first eight.
Notre Dame was as frigid as Wake Forest was hot from 3-point range.
The Irish were 0-of-8 from 3-point range in the first half. Marcus Hammond finally broke the drought when he made Notre Dame’s first 3 with 13:47 left in the second half.
By then, a futile pattern had developed. Notre Dame was trading two-point baskets with Wake Forest’s 3-pointers.
A 3-pointer by Daivien Williamson with 14:58 left capped a 20-8 run that started the second half and gave the Demon Deacons a 47-34 lead. Notre Dame isn’t the type of team that can dig out of a double-digit second-half deficit.
The margin for error is minuscule if there is any margin at all. Not having freshman reserve forward Ven-Allen Lubin (ankle) for a second straight game didn’t help matters.
The Irish were hit hard by Damari Monsanto, a 6-foot-6 junior who finished with 28 points and seven rebounds. He made 8-of-13 3-pointers. Five of them came in the second half.
“You know it’s going to be a long day when a guy banks one (in the second half),” Brey said.
Brey said that Notre Dame should’ve hired Monsanto to “shoot the balloons down today” for the halftime show.
Cormac Ryan, who finished with 12 points, said the game just got out of hand in the second half.
“I think we just let guys get going early,” Ryan said. “We’re all basketball players. We all know the feeling of when you’re hot, it’s hard to stop it. Guys got hot, and I think we needed to do a better job defensively.”
Ryan, who guarded Monsanto for most of the game, said he knew what could happen.
“He’s a good player, he’s quick and they were running their stuff well,” he said.
Brey was impressed with Monsanto.
“He’s amazingly gifted with that stroke,” Brey said. “It’s big time. I haven’t seen a guy shoot like that in a while. He shoots it with a guy up on him.”
The Irish were good defensively in the first half when Wake Forest finished with 11 turnovers and made just 12 of 26 shots.
Notre Dame led 16-4 after a Zona layup with 12:45 left. The Irish had luck splitting Wake Forest’s defense and making some mid-range jumpers and layups.
The Irish just splintered apart gradually as the half wore on. Monsanto’s 3-pointer with 1:45 left gave Wake Forest its first lead, at 25-24.
The Demon Deacons led by a point at halftime after Cameron Hildreth made a layup with 44 seconds left. Notre Dame never recovered.
Nate Laszewski, who finished with a team-high 18 points and four rebounds, said losing is always painful.
Asked if he was happy about how he played, he said: “No, I really don’t care what happens with that. I think I speak for Cormac (Ryan) and the rest of the guys that we just want to win.”
Brey, hoping for containment in the second half, didn’t get it. His team also didn’t get to 10. That’s the number of 3-pointers he said they need to make to win an ACC game.
“We were pretty good in the first half,” Brey said. “They got to 27 points and we were at 26. At least we were keeping a lid on the 3s. That’s how they can explode. Then they hit one to start the second half and guys get overconfident. Then guys are over helping and then it just compounds itself.
“Then we had some looks that you’ve got to make to stay with them. You have to shoot to stay with that team. You have to score with them. We couldn’t really do that. They’ve got some amazing firepower. We have to deal with them in two weeks again.”
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