Notre Dame holds off Louisville to move into first place in ACC
Notre Dame couldn't just cruise to a victory that launched it into sole possession of first place in the ACC. The Irish nearly blew a 12-point halftime lead at home against Louisville on Wednesday night and failed to make a field goal in the final 2:43.
But style points in a 63-57 victory don't mean a lick to a Notre Dame team playing without one of its starting forwards and continuing to surprise in an underwhelming conference that remains winnable for a squad that started its season 4-5.
The Irish (17-7, 10-3 ACC) have won 13 of their last 15 games since a 64-56 loss to Indiana on Dec. 18. The most recent win of that stretch lacked a lot of luster in Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame, who is 10-0 when it makes 10 3-pointers, shot just 5-of-20 from 3 against the Cardinals (11-13, 5-9).
The Irish countered with 34 points in the paint despite starting four guards and graduate senior Paul Atkinson Jr. being the only forward to play more three minutes. Atkinson was left to do extra dirty work down low as fellow forward Nate Laszewski remained sidelined with a bone bruise in his right leg suffered in Saturday's win at NC State.
Atkinson responded with a team-high 17 points and game-high 15 rebounds. He made five critical rebounds — two defensive and three offensive — in the final four minutes as the Irish clunkily closed out the victory.
"Paul was fabulous," said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. "He has to go 37 minutes tonight. Second half, I just though we'll use a timeout if we really need to rest him. I didn't think he'd come out."
Notre Dame's last field goal came on a pull-up 3 by senior guard Prentiss Hubb, who struggled shooting (2-of-8) most of the night. He finished 1-of-6 from 3 including a couple that weren't even close, but he didn't hesitate to hit the shot that put the Irish up 62-55 with 2:43 remaining.
"Prentiss makes us believe," Brey said. "How he talks to guys when it gets to be anxious like it was. He has a way about him that other guys feed off of."
Senior guard Dane Goodwin delivered 16 points for the Irish offense. Freshman guard Blake Wesley added 11 points.
Senior guard Cormac Ryan was asked to play 37 minutes after being moved in the starting lineup due to Laszewski's absence. All seven of his points came in the first half.
Senior guard Trey Wertz scored five points in 22 minutes off the bench. His driving layup with 4:31 left broke a 55-55 tie and gave the Irish a lead it didn't relinquish.
Louisville took a 55-54 lead with 6:14 remaining on an alley-oop dunk by forward Dre Davis that capped an 10-2 run over a three-minutes span. Then the Cardinals fizzled by making just one of their last nine shots. Louisville finished just 38.5% from the field (25-of-65) and 16.7% from beyond the arc (5-of-30).
Forward Jae'Lyn Withers sparked Louisville's comeback effort with 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. Guard El Ellis (13 points) and Davis (10) joined Withers in double digits.
Notre Dame missed more than two shots in a row during only three stretches, but they all came in the second half with streaks of five, three and five misses. The Irish finished 25-of-55 from the field (15.5%).
No. 7 Duke (19-4, 9-3) could jump back into a first-place tie with Notre Dame on Thursday night with a win at Clemson (12-11, 4-8). The Irish will also play their next game at Clemson on Saturday (7 p.m. EST on ACC Network).
Brey said Laszewski is a "long shot" to play against Clemson. Sophomore forward Matt Zona played just 2:02 as Notre Dame's seventh man against Louisville.
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