Now More Than Ever, Point Guard Prentiss Hubb Is Notre Dame Basketball's Best Wager
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Now More Than Ever, Prentiss Hubb Is Notre Dame’s Best Wager

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The audacity and, in his mind, erroneous nature of the statement, knocked Notre Dame coach Mike Brey back like a tidal wave.

His point guard, Prentiss Hubb — fresh off a career-high 26 points, five three-pointers and six assists — came up to him and took blame. For defeat. For the dud of a final possession that couldn’t even muster a game-tying shot attempt. For anything and everything that contributed to Notre Dame’s 90-85 loss to Ohio State in which the Irish let an 11-point lead with 14:38 left drip away.

Brey wiped it aside, as if it were bug on a windshield. Nonsense. Hogwash.

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Notre Dame junior guard Prentiss Hubb versus Ohio State on Dec. 8, 2020
Prentiss Hubb scored a career-high 26 points against Ohio State, but his focus afterward was on an empty final possession. (ACC)

“He says to me walking off the floor, ‘That’s my fault tonight,’” Brey said afterward, still incredulous at the idea. “I mean, are you kidding me? Stop. We’re not even in the game without him.”

Indeed, Hubb delivered a tour de force, his best game of three this year and among the most impressive of his two-plus seasons at Notre Dame. He was efficient, going 8 of 17 from the floor. He drew five fouls. He defended on the ball, notching two steals. He was engaged and alert off-ball, chasing guards around screens and staying on his man. He made a tying three-pointer with 3:14 left and a go-ahead triple with 5:41 remaining.

“Prentiss Hubb is a flat-out winner,” Brey said. “He has been dragging this group along with him. He did tonight. I love his leadership and toughness.”

On this night, it wasn’t quite enough. Notre Dame was a few defensive rebounds short, allowing Ohio State to grab eight of its 15 second-half misses. A few stops short, particularly on the interior, where Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell scored 17 points in the second half and was fouled five times.

Related, Irish forward Juwan Durham fouled out with 8:44 left, forcing Notre Dame to play a freshman — either wing Tony Sanders Jr. or forward Matt Zona — for the remainder of a tight game because his departure left six available scholarship players.

To Hubb, though, it’s all just a footnote in what he and anyone should agree was a missed opportunity. The final possession was a stinkbomb at the movie theater, a chance for something big that never got off the ground. Instead of a tying three-point attempt from him or someone else, flustered dribbling chopped 16.4 seconds off the clock before a last-ditch pass hit Nate Laszewski’s legs and rolled out of bounds. The ending is what stuck with him.

“I was the one that turned it over,” Hubb said. “I’m the leader of the team. Coach Brey relies on me a lot. Being the vocal leader, it always falls back on the point guard regardless of what happens. I could have done a lot of things better. I’m going to take the responsibility for my team.”

Hubb speaks with the assurance of someone who understands his indispensability and runs toward it, not away from it. He has been Notre Dame’s lone player to speak with reporters via Zoom after both its losses. And while Notre Dame doesn’t want an apology, it requires everything Hubb has to overcome its maladies that have arisen this year. The Irish need Hubb to be Hubb.

They need games like Tuesday’s, where he meets the moment, plays at his own pace and avoids erratic mistakes that popped up in a season-opening loss at Michigan State but quelled in a Sunday win over Detroit Mercy. In his last 77 minutes, Hubb has a 14-to-6 assist-turnover ratio. Tuesday was his most efficient game, needing only 17 shots to reach 26 points. He demonstrated improved feel for the right moments to push it and pull back on the reins.

“His shot selection was great,” Brey said. “We executed that two-for-one at the end of the half. That was him, all timing.

“Prentiss’ quarterbacking was spot-on and gave us a chance to win.”

Some other problems prevented the chance to win from actually becoming a triumph, though. Already through three games, fatigue and depth issues are patently clear and arose in the rebounding and defensive problems that helped Ohio State average 1.6 points per possession after halftime. But even with a deeper rotation and Durham in the game, neither area is expected to be a hallmark of this group.

Some of those are just dents in the armor Notre Dame will have to work around, with Hubb providing the map. Others, namely the matter of depth, have remedies that may soon arrive. Hubb and backcourt mate Cormac Ryan could be getting some help soon, with Santa Clara transfer guard Trey Wertz possibly becoming eligible next week.

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“We could use one more guy to rotate through on the perimeter,” Brey said.

The NCAA Division I Council meets Dec. 16 and will vote on passing the recommendation to allow immediate eligibility to all players sitting out this year or who have an outstanding waiver request. Brey has advocated for it since the fall.

But until a Wertz ruling, until guard Robby Carmody is healthy and playable (around New Year’s), until wing Nik Djogo returns (likely Saturday), Notre Dame will hitch the trailer to Hubb and go where he pilots it. That’ll remain true to a degree even with reinforcements, who will grab a couple of the many weights off Hubb’s back but still leave plenty there. Which is fine by Hubb.

Through three games, Hubb has played in 94 percent of available minutes and taken 31.7 percent of Notre Dame’s shots when he is on the floor. The Irish have 233 points in three games this year. Hubb has scored or assisted on 107 of them. That’s not including a few passes that led to free throw attempts. In this stretch of games and beyond, he’s Notre Dame’s best wager, and one worthy of all chips.

“My biggest thing is getting him some rest in the next 48 hours,” Brey said. “I’m going to turn him loose in Lexington, Kentucky [on Saturday].”

On that, Hubb and Brey agree.

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