SOUTH BEND — Second halves used to be such a struggle.
That’s so last month for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.
Making shots and getting stops, the Irish busted open what had been a close contest with a big burst in the second half. It ended with a 79-58 victory Tuesday over Wake Forest at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame (7-9; 4-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won two straight and four of five. Wake Forest slides to 5-8, 2-8 ACC. The Demon Deacons are 0-6 on the road in league play.
The Irish have outscored their last two opponents by a combined 87-54 in the second half.
“Our defense, our guys have really invested in it,” said coach Mike Brey. “They’ve seen it pay dividends. When we can get stops and get out a little early on you, the way we pass it and feel the game, it certainly helps us on the offensive end.”
It helped the Irish attack again in waves. Get stops and make shots. They made it all look easy. Juwan Durham led Notre Dame with 18 points and nine rebounds. Prentiss Hubb added 10 points (all in the second half) and 10 assists. Coming off a season-high 19 points against Pittsburgh, Cormac Ryan returned with 13.
Notre Dame led for 35:44. It trailed twice, the last time 5-4. The Irish led by as many as 28 points for a second straight game. This one took barely an hour and 40 minutes to finish. Notre Dame has won its last two league games by an average of 23.5. That might surprise some. It doesn’t surprise the Irish.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Ryan said. “It’s starting to come together for us. It’s exciting. We just want to continue that through the month of February.”
Walking out of the building early Tuesday, the Irish found themselves only two games in the win column from a third-place traffic jam.
“The way this league is, the strangest things happen in league play,” Brey said. “I was just hoping we could get on a little bit of a surge here and make it interesting. We’ve done it before. I love where we’re at.”
This one was over in the opening few minutes of the second half. Just as Notre Dame did the previous game at Pittsburgh, it returned in the second half with a statement run. Up by three at the break, the Irish ripped off 11 unanswered points in the first 2:36. That included 3s from Hubb and Trey Wertz, an old-fashion three-point play from Dane Goodwin and an offensive rebound, get-out-of-my-way dunk by Durham.
Wake Forest needed a timeout to slow the run, but the damage had been done. Hubb wasn’t. He drove for an easy two, then hit a spot-up transition 3 to top the run at 16-0 before Wake Forest finally scored with 14:47 left. By then, the Irish were up 19 and rolling. And flowing.
‘We just went out there,” Durham said, ‘and continued to play as hard as we could.”
With 5:29 left, the Irish had outscored the Deacons in the second half, 34-9. A Nate Laszewski dunk capped a 9-0 run and pushed Notre Dame up by 28 before Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes finally decided that it might be a good idea if he called a timeout. So he did.
“We needed to do it here,” said Brey, whose team was 1-3 in league play at home before the win. “We’ve kind of been better on the road. To kind of get into that rhythm the second half offensively. Combined with how we were defending was important.
“To do it again, you feel like you’re playing well on this back half of the season.”
The season as the Irish have come to know it effectively ended following Tuesday’s game. It was only fitting that it was an odd start time (5 p.m.) because everything about the rest of the year will be odd for Notre Dame. Why? The spring semester starts Wednesday, which means that for the first time during a pandemic, the Irish will have to balance books and basketball. The fall semester ended before Notre Dame played its first game in late November.
“I’m ready for class,” said Durham, who’ll start with a business class at 12:30 p.m. “I gotta do what I gotta do.”
On the court of late, that’s been a lot. For him and for the Irish.
• NOTRE DAME 79, WAKE FOREST 58
At Purcell Pavilion
WAKE FOREST (58): Massoud 2-11 2-3 8, Mucius 5-11 2-3 14, Oguama 6-12 1-2 13, Antonio 0-5 0-0 0, Williamson 3-11 0-0 8, Whitt 2-6 0-0 6, Neath 1-3 0-0 3, Okpomo 1-1 0-0 2, Johnson 1-3 0-0 2, Wilkins 1-1 0-0 2, Adams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-64 5-8 58.
NOTRE DAME (79): Durham 7-9 4-5 18, Laszewski 2-6 2-2 6, Goodwin 4-11 1-1 10, Hubb 4-11 0-0 10, Wertz 3-7 0-0 9, Ryan 5-9 0-0 13, Djogo 4-5 0-0 9, Morgan 1-1 0-0 2, Sanders 0-0 0-0 0, Zona 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 31-61 7-8 79.
Halftime_Notre Dame 35-32. 3-Point Goals_Wake Forest 9-23 (Mucius 2-3, Whitt 2-3, Williamson 2-4, Massoud 2-6, Neath 1-1, Johnson 0-1, Antonio 0-5), Notre Dame 10-23 (Ryan 3-5, Wertz 3-5, Hubb 2-6, Djogo 1-2, Goodwin 1-3, Durham 0-1, Laszewski 0-1). Rebounds_Wake Forest 30 (Oguama 6), Notre Dame 42 (Laszewski 10). Assists_Wake Forest 12 (Williamson 4), Notre Dame 18 (Hubb 10). Total Fouls_Wake Forest 10, Notre Dame 10.