SOUTH BEND — One question floats above the floor each time the Notre Dame men’s basketball team takes it to play a ranked team. The same question also hovers every time Notre Dame plays at home against a ranked team.
Is this the night one streak ends? Both streaks? The answer too often for too many seasons for too many Irish teams has been too much of the same.
Better luck next time. Or next time. Or next time.
Heading into Wednesday, it had been 1,134 days since Notre Dame last beat a ranked team. It had been even longer — 1,418 days — since Notre Dame last left its home gym with a win over a ranked team. Both streaks continue after No. 23 Virginia made the plays needed to win this one down the stretch for a 66-57 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
It was consecutive loss No. 25 overall and consecutive home loss No. 9 against a ranked team. Again, close but not close enough and good but not good enough. Somewhere on some vinyl, David Byrne of the Talking Heads croons.
Same as it ever was...
Notre Dame slides to 3-5 overall, 0-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia bounces back from a shellacking at the hands of No. 1 Gonzaga the last time out to move to 5-2, 1-0.
For as poorly as the Irish played in the first half, where they went stretches of 7:24 and 6:08 without buckets, and missed six straight shots with three turnovers after Nate Laszewski, who played the game of his Notre Dame life with a career high 28 points, scored their first basket, the Irish were in this one. Really. It was there for the taking.
Problem was, and has been, someone else takes it.
Even when it never led and then trailed by double digits — a certain sign of an early and painful death in the past against a Virginia team that just grinds you up on the defensive end — back came Notre Dame. The Irish showed some fight in the second half to make one wonder if this might be the night. Finally. About time.
Not since Notre Dame beat then-No.14 Florida State on Feb. 11, 2017 had it won a game against a ranked team at home. Not since Irish coach Mike Brey went shirtless in a wild postgame locker room in Maui had the Irish beaten a ranked team — No. 6 Wichita State on Nov. 22, 2017. Both dates seem like another lifetime, when this program still had dreams of going places.
Even after all that had gone sideways, which included losing guard Trey Wertz, likely a for a couple weeks with a sprained left ankle late in the first half, the Irish were right there. They were down three with 5:49 to play following a Laszewski dunk and free throw to give him his career high.
Five minutes left in a one-possession game often is winning time. Who wants it? Whoever best believes it, and too often, it’s not been Notre Dame. From that point on, it was the other guys who made all the plays. Like Kihei Clark’s driving, spinning layup and free throw. Like the Cavaliers getting a pair of offensive rebounds on the same possession before Sam Hauser stuck a 3 to push Virginia back out by eight. Like getting enough stops — even when a Cormac Ryan 3 rolled around and halfway down before bouncing out that really would’ve changed the rhythm of everything — to tell the home team, yeah, not tonight.
What’s it going to take for the Irish to finally finish one of these? Brey’s been around long enough to know confidence when he sees it. He hasn’t seen it. Not yet. It’s there for stretches, a flicker here and there, but nowhere near where and when it needs to be.
“We are not at that level to get over that hump yet,” Brey said. “You’ve got to get one or two to believe it. We can’t quite do that yet, but we’re going to keep working on it. There’s time to try and figure it out and see if we can get there.”
They should be there, but they’re not. So the streak continues.
Same as it ever was...
“We’ve given ourselves a lot of opportunities,” Laszewski said. “It’s about executing on the offense end and more importantly, digging in defensively and getting the stops on key possessions.
“We’ve been here a bunch. We’ve got to keep getting better.”
The loss wrecked big nights by the Irish bigs. Laszewski’s career night was piggy-backed by Juwan Durham’s season high 19. Nobody in an Irish jersey needed a game like Durham had Wednesday. During warmups, he was the last Irish big to keep working at the west basket. A few more jump-hooks. A few more mid-range jumpers. Get the ball to go through the net once more to feel good about his game.
Durham then played the best one of the young season. He was active and aggressive and determined to finish when he was around the rim, all elements of his game that have been missing, which necessitated a loss of his starting spot. He’ll get that back with Wertz down for extended time, but if there was a proverbial something to build off of that Brey so seeks in games like this, it’s Durham.
He was good, now go be good again and again.
“Maybe he’s jump-started,” Brey said. “I thought his decisions in the post and Nate, they were really good together. You’ve got to build on that.
“Juwan Durham really needed this.”
What’s next for the Irish? Good question, maybe one without an immediate answer. The league schedule sends Notre Dame to Pittsburgh on Saturday for an afternoon affair. But the Panthers lost a league game this week at Duke because of coronavirus issues within its program, which has included coach Jeff Capel recently battling the virus. The Irish still plan to travel Friday afternoon (during the Rose Bowl) to western Pennsylvania and still believe they'll play a game.
They might not know until just before getting on their charter flight, or maybe even after it lands.
Welcome to the guessing game portion of the season. Every program’s going to go through it at one time or another. This is the second time for the Irish. They were glad to play Wednesday, but don’t know when — or against who — they’ll play again.
“I hope we play the Pittsburgh game,” Brey said. “I don't know; that's the crazy thing. I hope we play. We played eight games. Let’s get to nine.”
• NO. 23 VIRGINIA 66, NOTRE DAME 57
At Purcell Pavilion
VIRGINIA (4-2): Hauser 5-13 0-0 13, Huff 7-9 0-0 15, Clark 7-12 3-6 19, Morsell 2-9 1-2 6, Murphy 2-5 0-0 5, Woldetensae 0-2 0-0 0, Beekman 0-2 0-0 0, McKoy 3-5 0-0 6, Shedrick 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-58 4-8 66.
NOTRE DAME (3-5): Laszewski 8-11 8-10 28, Goodwin 2-8 0-0 5, Hubb 1-8 2-2 4, Ryan 0-4 0-0 0, Wertz 0-2 1-2 1, Durham 7-11 5-7 19, Djogo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 16-21 57.
Halftime_Virginia 30-24. 3-Point Goals_Virginia 8-26 (Hauser 3-8, Clark 2-4, Huff 1-3, Morsell 1-3, Murphy 1-4, Beekman 0-1, McKoy 0-1, Woldetensae 0-2), Notre Dame 5-20 (Laszewski 4-7, Goodwin 1-3, Djogo 0-1, Ryan 0-3, Hubb 0-6). Rebounds_Virginia 33 (Hauser 10), Notre Dame 30 (Goodwin 7). Assists_Virginia 14 (Clark 5), Notre Dame 13 (Hubb 8). Total Fouls_Virginia 15, Notre Dame 11.