Notre Dame Gets The Boost It Needed In Beating Boston College
Notre Dame longed for run like this one. A blitz that stomps out an opponent’s good vibes and snuffs out visions of filching a comeback win.
About five minutes into the second half, Boston College, after hanging around but not truly threatening for much of the game, started to get some juice. Its bench had life, its players had a strut. The Eagles sliced a 14-point deficit to six, 50-44 with 14:56 left. It was plausibly the start of more of the same from this struggling Irish team that hadn’t put together two good halves against a high-major team all season.
Until forward Juwan Durham, bad back and all, grabbed the seventh of his 11 rebounds on a fortunate missed layup and dumped the ball to guard Cormac Ryan, who started a break. Five seconds, four passes and three dribbles ended in three points from Prentiss Hubb.
Three possessions later, after a Boston College basket, Notre Dame struck back with Dane Goodwin’s triple in just nine seconds, a corner dart on a feed from Hubb. Two more buckets followed in the next 52 seconds. In all, a 13-2 run and 17-point cushion with 12:06 to go.
An answer from a team that hasn’t had them in recent weeks. A spark that fueled an 80-70 Irish win Saturday, their first in ACC play. A victory that pushed aside concerns, for now, that being outclassed by the ACC’s best might snowball into a loss to a bottomfeeder.
“It’s good for us mentally,” Durham said.
Notre Dame even did it again, rattling off a 12-2 spurt when Boston College regrouped and pulled within six with 6:45 remaining. When the Irish took one punch, they landed a larger one. They were loose. They were tough. A few days earlier, on an 0-2 road swing through Virginia, they were neither.
“We hung our heads in the Virginia baton death march,” Brey said. “I thought we did a better job of moving onto the next play.
Notre Dame needed an opponent like this one. A 3-9 team frequent cellar resident whose only ACC win in six tries was a dusting of injury-riddled Miami. An ideal slumpbuster. A softer landing spot after playing five straight ACC games as underdogs and opening the season with nine top-50 KenPom teams in 11 games.
The Irish, at 3-8 and on a four-game skid, weren’t in position to overlook anyone. They didn’t. A focused team sliced through Boston College’s leaky, sometimes dispassionate brand of zone defense for 42 points in the first half and 1.16 points per possession overall.
Wins like this one – or in any form – haven’t been frequent for Notre Dame this year. With six more top-55 KenPom teams left, there still might be some bumps to come. But to feel good about winning a couple of those, Notre Dame had to get these games and find itself against the ACC’s bottom half.
Now, to be clear, this Saturday afternoon triumph is not an eraser of all flaws and concerns. The 27-game losing streak against ranked teams still exists. This was a decent but far from dominant defensive effort. One victory against a team it was supposed to beat won’t erase the idea the program has become stagnant.
But it’s better than the alternative. It’s a pause of worries and suggestion that this upcoming softer stretch of games could be more fruitful than sour.
“That competitive nature we all have just hasn’t shown up at certain times,” Goodwin said. “We needed that. Needed to come out strong today.”
Notre Dame required a couple practices like its most recent ones. A square boot in the rear. A chance to get after each other in one-on-one, two-on-two. Something to try and stop bad momentum cold and serve as a reminder that 75 percent of the conference season still remained.
“We needed to really compete more, stick our nose in there more,” Brey said. “That helped our guys’ juices flow a little.”
Added Durham: “Without days like that, we would continue to have the bad days.”
On that, Durham is right. A season played during a pandemic in comatose gyms combined with a losing streak is a recipe for checking out and loss of attention. To notch an uplifting win, Notre Dame had to pick itself up off the mat and give itself a jolt in practice.
Notre Dame yearned for a game like this one. In nine games against power-conference teams, it yo-yoed between one good half and one ghastly one, or not much good at all. The Irish have had stretches where open shots come easily followed by droughts where everything is contested or ends up in the other team’s hands.
All told, Notre Dame was 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) on 3-pointers, didn’t commit a turnover until just over 11 minutes remained in the game and allowed Boston College to rebound only five of its 34 missed shots. It led for 36:29 of game time.
“We were just really efficient,” Brey said. “It was going to be hard to catch us because we are too good with the ball and we’ll make enough shots if we get looks.
“I didn’t call one set today. We played basketball.”
And for the first time in a while, did so with little stress and a lot of self-assurance.
“We just went for it today,” Goodwin said. “Moving forward, that’s a recipe for us.”
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