Observations: Trey Wertz’s Buzzer-Beater Sends Notre Dame Basketball Past Wake Forest 80-77 In ACC Tournament
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Observations: Trey Wertz’s Buzzer-Beater Sends Irish Past Wake Forest

Trey Wertz delivered a March moment, with an assist from Cormac Ryan.

Wertz’s three-pointer at the buzzer gave No. 11 seed Notre Dame an 80-77 win over No. 14 Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament Tuesday night and capped a comeback from a 16-point second-half deficit. The Irish (11-14) advanced to play sixth-seeded North Carolina (16-9) Wednesday night at 9 p.m.

Ryan started the final possession with a block of Daivien Williamson’s jumper with five seconds left, brought the ball up the court and dished to Wertz on the right wing, who let it fly some 25 feet away from the hoop.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball
Trey Wertz's three-pointer capped a 17-2 Notre Dame run to help the Irish come back to win. (ACC)

“I was just yelling to him, ‘Trailer, trailer,’” Wertz said on the ACC Network broadcast. “As soon as I let it go, I knew it was good.”

The three-pointer capped a 17-2 Notre Dame run to end the game.

Here are some observations.

• No one would’ve blamed you for calling it a night when Notre Dame gave up consecutive three-pointers after slicing its deficit to six at the 8:17 mark. The Irish had life, but in a thunderclap, Wake Forest led 75-63 with 7:20 left after two threes and no resistance. There wasn’t much evidence the defensive intensity, or lack thereof, would change.

• Down the stretch, though, Notre Dame scrounged up some pride. Center Juwan Durham’s rim protection and length affected shots at the rim. Wake Forest, an average shooting team, missed its last four threes after starting 12 of 23. Notre Dame played the closing minutes in man defense and went back to the switching it used at the start of the game. Ryan’s block came after he switched onto Williamson.

• This was yet another example of Ryan’s toughness. He took a shot on his hip with about eight minutes left, and even though he returned after a short break, he looked less than 100 percent when he tried to chase down a loose ball. But there he was at the end of the game, moving his feet to stay in front of Williamson, Wake Forest’s leading scorer, to make a big play.

• Once this became a clear shootout, Notre Dame needed to get more than it did from Hubb, Laszewski and guard Dane Goodwin in the first half if it wanted to come back. They combined for two points on 1-of-10 shooting in the opening half. Notre Dame put up 37 first-half points and shot 48 percent because Ryan made jumpers and Durham took advantage of some leaky ball-screen defense.

That trio delivered in the second half. Hubb had 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting in the final 20 minutes. Goodwin had nine points. Laszewski was scoreless, but had three assists.

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• After allowing Wake Forest to start the game with a 15-2 rebounding advantage, including eight offensive boards, Notre Dame out-rebounded the Demon Deacons 19-15 in the second half and allowed them to grab just five of their 20 missed shots after halftime.

• Notre Dame didn’t have any signs of urgency on defense in the first half in a situation that usually evokes it. The Irish allowed 44 points and 1.33 points per possession to the ACC’s worst offense (per KenPom) in league play. They could only force two first-half turnovers against a team that gave it away 20.5 precent of the time coming in. Wake Forest led 21-7 just 7:50 into the game, and its earlier 18-7 lead was its largest since Jan. 30.

• No matter what defensive scheme Notre Dame played, it couldn’t string together stops for 32 minutes, aside from a 12-2 spurt in the first half. It started by switching screens, and Wake Forest attacked the mismatches where forwards were on guards. The Irish scrapped that for a few varieties of zones, against which Wake Forest steadily drove the gaps to create three-pointers and one-on-one isolations for layups. They were lucky trail 44-37 at halftime.

• Notre Dame is 11-5 in the ACC Tournament since joining the league and has won a tournament game in seven straight seasons.

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