Notre Dame MBB team fights to the finish — of another bitter ending
Mike Brey may be stepping down at season’s end, but he hasn’t lost his team.
Not even close.
Putting up the kind of fight his players promised, but few truly expected, Notre Dame pushed North Carolina State (16-5, 6-4 ACC) to the finish before falling 85-82 in front of 15,144 in PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., ON Tuesday night.
“We're searching,” said Brey, whose club fell to 9-12 and 1-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “We're gonna keep playing. We competed and we gave ourselves a chance against a good team in a tough atmosphere. And, you know, we will go play it out. Gotta play it out.”
There were some key moments and opportunities down the stretch, but it was clearly Notre Dame’s surprising weakness with the ball over the course of the game that prevented a different outcome.
The Wolfpack turned 15 Irish turnovers into 18 points while the Irish defense managed to force just two NC State turnovers. Notre Dame entered the game among the top five in the country in turnovers at 9.2 a game.
Certainly, the Wolfpack is good at it, forcing 14.3 turnovers a game.
“It's their athletic ability and how they came after us defensively,” Brey said. “It wears on you eventually.”
Point guard Trey Wertz took the brunt of the heat and had five of the turnovers, including two early in the second half as the Wolfpack set a tougher tone after starting the second half trailing 42-39.
Trailing by as many as 11 in the first half and nine in the second, the Irish shot well enough all night – 52% from the field and 43% from the 3-point line – to make a run at the end.
JJ Starling’s two free throws with 1:53 to play put the Irish within three (76-73). Each team came up empty on the next possession, including ND’s Cormac Ryan – who had a team-high 19 points – missing his first 3-point shot of the night after hitting his first five.
On the next possession, NC State cleared out a side and went to 6-foot-9, 275-pound grad student D.J. Burns Jr. He got it within 10 feet of the hoop and backed his way down to the bucket, eventually overpowering 6-10, 230-pound Nate Laszewski, who was defending with four fouls.
The final couple minutes followed the same pattern of the Irish simply unable to make enough stops or shots to close out a close game.
“Of course, when you have the answer of the big fella (Burns) throwing it into the post, and if you double him, he's a good passer. But if you don't double, you can't guard him one-on-one,” Brey said. “You know, it was a nightmare really, once they started going in there. But they counted as two (points) and you're able to hang around instead of giving up a bunch of 3.”
The Burns bucket came with a minute to play and after Marcus Hammond missed two free throws with 45 seconds to play, the only chance the Irish had was for NC State to miss a few free throws.
Instead, the Wolfpack hit 7-of-8 to finish 85% for the game (23-27), well above their season average of 72%.
There was some uncertainty going into the contest if NC State’s top scorer, 6-4 sophomore Terquavion Smith (18.7 points a game), would even play.
He had to be taken off the floor on a stretcher after landing on his back following a hard foul at the rim in last Saturday’s loss at North Carolina.
Against the Irish, he hit only 2-of-14 field goals, but went 11-for-13 from the free throw line to finish with 17 points in 39 minutes.
His backcourt mate did the most damage. Jarkel Joiner, a 6-1 grad student averaging 16.3 a game, went 9-for-18 from the floor and finished with 28 points.
Still, Notre Dame could have survived the performance, with the Wolfpack shooting just 41.2% from the field, including 30% from the 3-point line (6-for-20), were it not for the turnovers.
Notre Dame even had a 41-32 rebounding edge, with Hammond corralling 10 to go with his 11 points. Dane Goodwin had 11 points and five rebounds, and freshman Starling turned in one of his finest all-around games with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting (4-for-4 free throws), seven rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes.
Following last Saturday’s home loss to Boston College, Brey talked about finding more playing time for freshman Ven-Allen Lubin.
Laszewski’s foul trouble forced the issue some, and Lubin was a factor on both ends with 10 points (4-for-8), five rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes, about six minutes over his average.
“First of all, he gave us a defensive presence back there a little bit,” Brey said. “...So I've been wanting to get him in there more. … moving forward, we'd like to play them together some (with Laszewski) and see if that can help us.”
Notre Dame tries to end a four-game skid when it hosts Louisville at noon (EST) Saturday.
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