INDIANAPOLIS — Bus rides back from the center of the state this time of year often have been long and lonely for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.
It was more of the same after Saturday’s game against Purdue in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Irish had trouble defending, had trouble rebounding and had trouble scoring for stretches before a 88-78 loss. It marked the third time in the past four years the Irish have lost in the annual doubleheader.
Notre Dame (2-4) is 4-6 all-time in the Classic. Winners of five of its last six overall, Purdue improves to 6-2.
Ineligible to start the week, junior Trey Wertz led the Irish with 27 points in his second game with the Irish.
“i didn’t try to force anything; I was comfortable out there,” said Wertz, who went for nine points his first time out Wednesday against Duke. “I just kind of took what was there. I tried to move around and shoot when I was open.”
Notre Dame’s leading scorer coming in at 19.6 points per game, guard Prentiss Hubb, went scoreless on 0-for-7 from the floor. It’s the first time he’s finished with zero points in 51 games dating back to late in his freshman year.
“I feel for P-Hubb tonight,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “I just thought he was really good with the ball finding people. He was almost a defensive stopper most of the game, and I think that took away from some scoring.
“We need him to score some.”
Wertz, Hubb’s roommate, took up that slack.
“He’s a great addition to our group,” Brey said.
Eric Hunter, Jr., and Sasha Stefanovic led the Boilermakers with 18.
A second 3-pointer from Nik Djogo capped an 11-2 Irish run and tied it at 53 with 14:37 play. Purdue then pushed back out to a nine-point lead with nine unanswered. It was that kind of afternoon for the Irish, who’d eventually trail by as many as 15 the final four minutes. Again, it was about stops. Notre Dame couldn’t get enough of them when required.
“We don’t necessarily have a defensive identity right now,” Wertz said. “We can score with the best of them, but we’ve got to get stops when we need to. it’s something we’ve got to talk about and try and fix.”
Brey contemplated a starting lineup change following Wednesday’s loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener. On Saturday, he followed through, inserting Wertz, who became eligible earlier in the week, for his first start in his second game in an Irish uniform.
Wertz started for power forward Juwan Durham. The official reason given was Durham had sprained an ankle in the Duke game. Durham worked through pre-game warmups as usual and was at the scorer’s table ready to check in barely four minutes in. He finally got into the game at the first television timeout, which arrived at 13:09 and the Irish down eight.
No Durham gave the Irish a four-around-one (four guards, one post player) lineup that Brey often prefers. Wertz made his first shot 34 seconds in, a wing 3. He then made a second next time down as the Irish started better than the other night against Duke and made three of their first five shots.
Trouble was, Purdue also had it dialed in from distance, and everywhere else. The Boilermakers were up nine before the first media timeout. Back to scramble mode for the Irish, who again labored to score, going 1-for-9 in one early stretch. The game wasn’t even seven minutes old, and Notre Dame already trailed by double figures.
The first half storyline was the same as it was against Duke. Notre Dame would string together a couple good possessions and get within five, as it did following a Cormac Ryan 3, then Purdue would run off seven unanswered in 101 seconds to go back up by 12.
A jumper from former Marian High School standout and South Bend native Jaden Ivey gave the Boilers their largest lead of the first at 15 with 2:32 before intermission. Ivey finished with four points in 13 minutes.