Virginia Tech bounces Notre Dame from ACC Tournament
Mike Brey knew Notre Dame was going to have a tough time trying to stop Virginia Tech.
The Hokies made 59.2% of their shots when they beat the Irish in Blacksburg, Va., on Jan. 15. That's why Notre Dame's head coach opted to make a tweak to the Irish starting lineup in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
Rather than continuing to start four guards alongside graduate senior forward Paul Atkinson Jr., Brey put senior forward Nate Laszewski into the starting lineup in place of senior guard Dane Goodwin, who started all 31 regular season games.
The switch didn't help. Seventh-seeded Virginia Tech jumped out to a 10-2 lead before Goodwin entered the game after the first 3:03. Second-seeded Notre Dame was never able to catch back up in an 87-80 loss at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The double-bye the Irish (22-10) earned in the regular season lasted longer than the rest of their run in the conference tournament.
"It was a little bit of, 'Let's try something different,'" Brey said of taking Goodwin out of the starting lineup. "Obviously that experiment wasn't great, and I'm responsible for that one."
Inserting Goodwin didn't help in the first half on either end. He was held scoreless in 17 minutes before halftime as Notre Dame fell behind by as many as 16 points on multiple occasions in the first 20 minutes. All small 5-0 run by Notre Dame gave the Irish a glimmer of hope with a 42-31 halftime deficit.
The 6-foot-6 Goodwin started the second half, and the Hokies (21-12) attacked his lack of size in the post. Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young always seemed to have an answer for whatever Notre Dame threw at the Hokies, even if he couldn't articulate it well after the game.
"We just had such a great look about us, and we got (Keve) Aluma started in the first possession of the game," Young said. "Justyn (Mutts) was awfully, awfully good throughout, got a couple of shots down, and I thought put Notre Dame on their heels a little bit, which is very unusual.
"Now, in the second half, they are a machine offensively. Their passing, their spacing, what they can do with all those guys gives you a lot of heartburn and keeps you up at night.
"I don't know any other way to explain it to you than that. I don't have a real succinct answer."
Notre Dame couldn't string together enough defensive stops in a row to complete a comeback, but the Irish did make Virginia Tech sweat in the final five minutes. A basket and free throw by Laszewski with 4:09 left cut Virginia Tech's lead to five points.
Virginia Tech and Notre Dame traded baskets by Nahiem Alleyne and Goodwin, then Storm Murphy made a pair of backbreaking 3s for the Hokies. Murphy extended Virginia Tech's lead to 11 points with makes late in the shot clock. One came with a double pump.
"I couldn't believe that he double pumped it," Mutts said. "I'm standing to the side and he did. I was just surprised that it went in. I'm in awe. It was a great shot."
Senior guards Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan, who led Notre Dame with 23 and 20 points, respectively, didn't let the Irish go down without a fight. Ryan hit his second 3 of the game and a pair of free throws before Hubb made a layup with 48 seconds left to cut the deficit to four points.
But Virginia Tech secured the game at the free-throw line with eight straight makes to finish off Notre Dame. The Hokies will play against Virginia or North Carolina in Saturday's semifinals opposite Duke and Miami.
Virginia Tech, who advanced to the quarterfinals on a buzzer beating 3 in overtime against Clemson, made 57.4% of its shots (31-of-54) to beat Notre Dame for the fourth time since the start of the 2020-21 season. The 6-9 Aluma led the Hokies with 20 points. Murphy added 16.
Notre Dame didn't struggle from the floor either in hitting 27-of-51 (52.9%) from the field. But Notre Dame limited itself with 12 turnovers, 10 of which came in the first-half onslaught.
"We can attribute that to me," Hubb said. "I'm the point guard. I feel like I started the game off with that crazy turnover, and I think that it just spiraled down from there. Being a point guard, I have to take care of the ball and from the jump, too."
Though the offense wasn't the problem for the Irish, freshman guard Blake Wesley and Atkinson had relatively quiet nights. Wesley scored nine points on 2-of-8 shooting. Atkinson scored just five points and grabbed only three rebounds. Laszewski was much more effective with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Goodwin scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
After winning 15 regular season games in the ACC, Notre Dame should be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble come Selection Sunday. But with losses to Wake Forest, Florida State and Virginia Tech in their last six games, the Irish likely won't be put in a favorable position by the selection committee.
"I have them coming to my house Sunday night, and we'll see what our destiny is," Brey said. "I'm excited about us moving forward. I think we're in pretty good shape. I guess we'll find out Sunday."
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