Second loss to Florida State pushes Notre Dame into deeper hole
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A Notre Dame men’s basketball season spiraling south for several weeks reached its lowest level Tuesday night in Purcell Pavilion.
Up against a Florida State team with only five wins coming in, including none on the road, the Irish stumbled early and were humbled often in an 84-71 loss, less than a month after losing to the same team by a point in Tallahassee.
In a game played over 40 minutes, frustrated Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey felt like it was over for his 9-10 (1-7 ACC) team in the first minute.
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First possession for the Seminoles (6-13, 4-4 ACC) was a quick move and baseline drive for a layup by Caleb Mills. Less than a minute later it was a coast-to-coast dunk for Matthew Cleveland.
“When the first play of the game is a rip, baseline layup, and then a dunk in transition, the tone is set,” Brey said.
“I misread us. I really thought we'd be ready to chest (defend) a little bit more. They're really good. Don't get me wrong. And they made some tough shots, especially early, but those first two possessions are like, now they're confident as hell and their defense is tough …
“I thought from practice we'd be really digging in and hungry and have a little more fight to us.”
By the 11:05 mark it was 32-8 as FSU hit 11 of its first 14 shots, including 4-for-7 on 3s.
“It felt like 40,” Brey said of the deficit.
It was an offensive explosion for a team averaging 68.7 points a game and shooting 43.3% from the field — that’s 12th in the ACC and 241st in the country.
The hopeful stat for the Irish was that FSU is allowing 74 points a game, 14th out of 15 league teams, and ranks 315th in 3-point defense.
And the Irish took advantage of some serious defensive lapses to give the reported home crowd of 6,206 something worth cheering.
From that 24-point deficit, Notre Dame trimmed it to 35-29 at the 2:48 mark of the first half on a drive to the basket by JJ Starling (12 points). Marcus Hammond (19 points) pushed the stop button on the FSU run with a couple of 3s and had 10 first-half points.
But Florida State held Notre Dame scoreless after Starling’s bucket to take a 39-29 lead into half.
The 10-point deficit looked manageable — until the Seminoles went eight for their first 10 in the second half and the lead ballooned back to 24 at 66-42 with 9:02 to play.
There were more defensive lapses ahead though for FSU — Trey Wertz (15 points) drove to the basket for three barely contested layups in one stretch and the Irish got it back down to six again at 73-67 on a 3-point shot by Dane Goodwin (11 points) with 1:14 to play.
But Notre Dame needed some help beyond a few FSU turnovers (three over the last 6:30) and as the Irish fouled and fouled to stop the clock, the Seminoles — 73.3% from the line coming in — shot almost 80% from the free throw line, including 13-for-16 over the last 2:23.
Getting beat on the boards is nothing new for Notre Dame but FSU’s 42-29 edge was excessive and disappointing considering they were even at 27 in the first meeting, a one-point FSU home win.
And the Irish didn’t help themselves by shooting just 9-for-32 on 3s (28.1%) against one of FSU’s major weaknesses and 26-for-67 (38.8%) on all field goals.
By the end of the post-game press conference, Brey, in his 23rd season at ND, was examining himself as much as his team.
“They do have ownership of themselves and they know, but I certainly haven't been able to help them much,” Brey said. “I just told them ‘I've done a horrible job with you fellas.’ I thought we would be more ready to compete.
“And you know, again, that's the boss's responsibility. Totally accountable, totally accountable,” Brey said, slapping the conference table four times, maybe for emphasis to make sure the message was heard and understood, or maybe just out of frustration.
The droughts of energy, focus and toughness have him perplexed.
“Maybe if it was all freshmen …,” he said at one point.
But they’re not.
The Irish start four grad students with a fifth the first off the bench.
FSU didn’t have a senior among its top 10 players in minutes played.
“... It's some old dudes and I told them in (the locker room), ‘You know what, fellas, I love you like Kyle Brey (his son). But I think I've spoiled you like I've done with Kyle Brey at times.’ … So, we'll figure it out ...
“I’m probably too nice and too ‘How's your psyche? How's your head? Be positive.’ You know how Coach Mike is ‘Rah, rah, everybody get confident.’”
Next up for the Irish is Boston College (8-11, 2-6), which visits Purcell at 2 p.m. EST on Saturday. The Eagles beat Notre Dame, 70-63, in Chesnut Hill, Mass., on Jan. 3.
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