SOUTH BEND — If Saturday’s regular-season finale against one of the league’s elite was all about pride for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team after four straight losses, and it was, the Irish were determined to play with more of it.
Show out in the areas of effort and execution. Bring more of an edge and more energy than they had the previous two weeks, which turned into 14 disappointing days of what-might-have-beens. Do it against No. 11 Florida State and Notre Dame could leave Purcell Pavilion later that afternoon with no regrets.
There were no regrets. No what-ifs either. Not after Notre Dame did something that hasn’t been done around these parts in four years. Playing with that edge and effort for 40 minutes Notre Dame beat a ranked team at home for the first time in 1,484 days following an 83-73 victory.
That previous win on Feb. 11, 2017 came against then-No. 14 Florida State. Saturday also marked an even 1,200 days since Notre Dame last beat a ranked team, that coming Nov. 22, 2017 over then-No. 6 Wichita State. Irish coach Mike Brey celebrated that night in Maui by removing his shirt in the post-game locker room.
No shirts were shed after this one. Only a whole lot of aggravation coming clear of Wednesday’s lackluster loss to North Carolina State.
“We knew we had to be better in every aspect of the game,” said junior guard Dane Goodwin. “We came out hungry to play today. We wanted to prove something about ourselves and others that we play a certain way and one game’s not going to define us, but we can step up and make the change.”
Notre Dame’s winless streak against ranked teams ends at 28 in a row. Its home winless streak against ranked teams ends at 10. This one wasn’t about snapping those runs. It was about enjoying some long-overdue/needed success to maybe make a run with what’s next.
Notre Dame (10-14; 6-12) is the No. 11 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Next up is a first-round date Tuesday (7 p.m.) with No. 14 Wake Forest.
The Irish all but owned this one from the start. They never trailed and led by as many as 20 points. When the Seminoles made a run in the second half, a run that everyone knew was coming, the Irish had answers. This wasn’t going to be like Georgia Tech, when Notre Dame let a 17-point lead vaporize. This wasn’t going to be like Syracuse, where a 20-point road lead also wasn’t enough.
Afterward, there was a lot to like instead of to lament. Like Prentiss Hubb going for a team-high 22 points and going over 1,000 points in his career. Like Goodwin grinding out 15 points and nine rebounds. Like four Irish scoring double figures. Like the Irish going 28-for-34 (82.4 percent) from the foul line. Like how Notre Dame allowed Florida State to get within four points with 2:30, but never closer.
“We had a steady mindset going into today,” Goodwin said. “We stayed solid through those (late) minutes and eventually got it done.”
How Notre Dame looked Saturday is a lot how this program once looked. It was a fun one. It was a needed one. Noon start aside, this team was ready to do what it would do early.
Wounded and wondering after being so thoroughly taken apart by North Carolina State at home Wednesday, Notre Dame had every excuse to pack it in and not show up Saturday. The Seminoles could slide into town and slide out with a 20-point win and nobody around college basketball, maybe even around campus, would’ve given it a second glance.
“Their pride was really hurt Wednesday, and at times throughout the year,” Brey said. “It’s neat to see a group of guys kind of rally and do it.”
This was a different Irish outfit almost from the start. They played with a purpose in building the early lead, then played with poise when the Seminoles climbed back into the game late in the second half. And all throughout, there was a passion from the first guy in the rotation to the seventh. It wasn’t one guy doing it all on the floor. It wasn’t one guy doing the talking in the huddles. It was this guy and that guy and those guys. The Irish looked like a team again.
“It really comes from all of us,” Goodwin said. “We’re all equal, part of the team, part of the culture.”
The groundwork was laid in the hours after Wednesday’s lackluster loss by graduate student/guard/captain Nik Djogo’s group texts to his teammates. Djogo wanted to remind everyone to stay together, remind them that he had their collective backs. He admitted to being “antsy” and “frustrated” after Wednesday’s game.
“I kind of felt embarrassed by how I was treating things,” he said. “I just texted the guys saying the kind of team performance I gave wasn’t something they would expect out of me. I would change the way I approached the game.”
That change came. Djogo started Saturday and listened to the playing of his country’s national anthem “O Canada” beforehand. He then backed his vow to be better with eight quick points. Less than four minutes in, that allowed the Irish to lead by eight.
“A lot of times this season when we’ve been down in the dumps, we’ve said a bunch of things but never really have done it on the court,” Djogo said. “All the stuff I said on Wednesday wouldn’t mean much if we went out there and kind of did the same thing. I wanted to pride myself on having a strong start.”
After everything that’s happened this week, it was good to see. It was refreshing to see. No, the Irish haven’t won as many games as everyone would’ve liked this season. They should’ve been better than their 11th-place finish in the league. This season has gone sideways a couple times, but never did go off the rails. Only Miami (19) played more ACC games during this pandemic-influenced season. Notre Dame was the only league team to complete its 10-game road slate.
“We’ve been available for every game this season,” Brey said. “We’ve shown up every night. We should get the freakin’ sportsmanship award or something.”
They’ll settle for this win. It’s only one, but it was a big one.
• NOTRE DAME 83, No. 11 FLORIDA STATE 73
At Purcell Pavilion
FLORIDA STATE (73): Gray 4-9 7-7 15, Koprivica 2-3 0-0 4, Evans 0-4 2-2 2, Polite 3-7 1-2 8, Walker 4-16 2-5 12, Barnes 7-10 3-4 17, Calhoun 5-12 0-0 12, Osborne 0-0 0-0 0, Wilkes 0-1 0-0 0, Ngom 0-1 0-0 0, Jack 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 26-64 15-20 73.
NOTRE DAME (83): Durham 4-6 1-2 9, Laszewski 2-4 7-8 11, Djogo 3-4 4-5 11, Hubb 6-17 7-8 22, Wertz 0-6 4-4 4, Ryan 4-9 0-1 11, Goodwin 4-8 5-6 15. Totals 23-54 28-34 83.
Halftime_Notre Dame 47-31. 3-Point Goals_Florida St. 6-24 (Calhoun 2-6, Walker 2-10, Jack 1-1, Polite 1-3, Ngom 0-1, Wilkes 0-1, Evans 0-2), Notre Dame 9-27 (Ryan 3-6, Hubb 3-10, Goodwin 2-5, Djogo 1-2, Laszewski 0-1, Wertz 0-3). Fouled Out_Gray, Djogo. Rebounds_Florida St. 34 (Gray 10), Notre Dame 37 (Durham, Goodwin 9). Assists_Florida St. 8 (Gray, Walker, Barnes 2), Notre Dame 12 (Hubb 5). Total Fouls_Florida St. 23, Notre Dame 17. A_646 (9,149).