SOUTH BEND — Throw another win in the Atlantic Coast Conference bag to start a big week with two left to get.
Having won five of seven league games heading into Sunday’s home contest with Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame looked at this stretch of three ACC contests in seven days as a big opportunity to make a big move up the league standings.
Graduate student guard Nik Djogo scored a season high 18 points as the Irish made it six wins in their last eight ACC games, 71-61, at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame improves to 9-10, 6-7 ACC. Miami falls to 7-12, 3-11.
"Getting consistent minutes, the coaching staff expects a lot out of me, more than they did in the past," Djogo said. "I take that seriously and have a lot of pride in the things I can do for the team."
Playing its first game since winning at Duke on Tuesday, Notre Dame led by three with 3:36 left before a 7-0 spurt pushed its advantage to double digits (66-56) with 1:36 remaining. It was the largest Irish lead of the night in a game often played within a two-possession window.
"You knew it was going to be a hard game," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "Could we win a hard game? Open looks, but we didn't make them. They keep coming at us. Even though it wasn't pretty, we figured out a way to win a hard game. We've come a long way with our mental toughness."
Unable to push its lead beyond six points most of the second half, Notre Dame finally jumped to a seven-point lead on a Nate Laszewski drive and free throw. That didn’t deter Miami, which ran off six unanswered to get back within one. Two Kameron McGusty free throws off a Flagrant One foul by Cormac Ryan brought the Hurricanes back within one, 52-51. And when Elijah Olaniyi dropped in a 3, the Hurricanes were up 54-52 thanks to an 11-2 run.
Five points from Laszewski bumped the Irish back up by three. That’s how most of the game was played. No lead was too safe; no deficit too large. It wasn't pretty. It was really ugly. It was a grind.
"it was good for us to have to dig in and do a lot of tough stuff," Laszewski said. "It helps us a lot going forward."
The Irish ran into several issues early. Juwan Durham and Laszewski each picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes and Ryan, who scored a career high 28 points in Tuesday’s win at Duke, limped to the locker room with a sprained left ankle before the first media timeout. Ryan looked like he stepped on a Miami player’s foot. Brey figured the junior captain might be down for the next two weeks. He was gone barely two minutes.
The Irish had a whole lot of trouble guarding early, but the Hurricanes couldn’t capitalize. Miami made one of its first seven free throws.
Ryan missed less than three minutes while Laszewski picked up his third foul at the 9:39 mark of the first half. Having the bigs both in foul trouble forced the Irish to play in one stretch with five guards. It worked. Notre Dame ripped off seven unanswered to flip a five-point deficit into a two-point lead late in the first half.
Miami staggered through one stretch having missed 14 straight shots. Then Isaiah Wong busted loose for a layup and a wing 3 to flip a one-point Irish lead to a four-point deficit late in the first half. The Irish weathered the early foul trouble and cold shooting (35.5 percent) to get it to 31-31 at half.
Notre Dame seemingly was holding on for any sort of traction in the first half with its foul trouble and jumbled rotation. Luckily, the Irish had Djogo deliver nine points, six rebounds and two assists in 13 efficient minutes. He also played the center/power forward spot in the five-guard look.
"He did a great job with that," said Laszewski, the team’s leading scorer this season, who took one shot in the first half.
This was the second time this season that the teams have met — both times in the league’s showcase Sunday night game. Late last month in South Florida, Brey went an entirely different route and benched his usual five starters in favor of five others to open. That included giving freshmen Tony Sanders and Matt Zona and walk-on Elijah Morgan their first career starts.
Brey did it because he was unhappy with how his starters had practiced the previous day. He joked/wondered during his Zoom media call Friday whether he should go the same starting lineup route, one that produced a 14-point win and a ridiculous 63 bench points.
Brey stayed with his usual starters on Sunday. Having won five of those last seven, there was little reason to rattle the status quo.
Wind chill in South Bend before tip was 3 degrees. The heat index in Coral Gables was … 88.
On Friday, Brey indicated that it’s the preference of the Notre Dame administration to limit attendance to only family members and friends of the program.
The teams played Sunday in front of the usual sparse crowd at Purcell Pavilion, something that won’t change the rest of the season. Eight days earlier, Notre Dame had played at Georgia Tech, which allowed 1,200 fans into McCamish Pavilion. That included members of the student body and the pep band, which gave Georgia Tech a decided homecourt advantage. Brey wondered aloud afterward if Notre Dame might do the same, at least get the band socially distanced in the west stands.
“I’m in agreement with our administration — let’s just not mess with it right now,” Brey said of the limited attendance guidelines. “That we have been able to maintain and play games, we’ve got to stay the course."
• NOTRE DAME 71, MIAMI 61
At Purcell Pavilion
MIAMI (61): Brooks 1-2 3-6 5, Beverly 1-8 0-2 2, McGusty 3-14 6-9 12, Olaniyi 5-13 0-0 11, Wong 6-16 2-2 17, Walker 6-15 1-2 14, Gak 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-68 12-21 61.
NOTRE DAME (71): Durham 4-7 4-6 12, Laszewski 6-8 2-2 14, Goodwin 4-12 0-0 11, Hubb 2-13 0-0 4, Ryan 1-6 0-0 3, Djogo 7-10 2-2 18, Wertz 4-7 0-0 9. Totals 28-63 8-10 71.
Halftime_31-31. 3-Point Goals_Miami 5-22 (Wong 3-9, Walker 1-3, Olaniyi 1-4, Beverly 0-1, McGusty 0-5), Notre Dame 7-29 (Goodwin 3-6, Djogo 2-3, Wertz 1-4, Ryan 1-6, Laszewski 0-2, Hubb 0-8). Rebounds_Miami 38 (Brooks, Walker 10), Notre Dame 42 (Goodwin 11). Assists_Miami 7 (Beverly, McGusty 3), Notre Dame 16 (Hubb 5). Total Fouls_Miami 10, Notre Dame 12.