SOUTH BEND — The one guy who’d been around the building the longest — graduate student guard Rex Pflueger — knew the significance of this one, and wanted to make sure the other four starters for Notre Dame knew it as well.
Prior to the start of Wednesday’s second half in a game the home team trailed by five, Pflueger went to the other starters and pointed to the Purcell Pavilion floor before saying a few words. Likely, it was along the lines of it being time they protect that house. Their house.
Then they did.
Winners at home in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the first time this season, Notre Dame also snapped a two-game league losing streak with a 90-80 victory over last-place Wake Forest.
"He's our captain; he's our emotional leader," senior guard T.J. Gibbs said of Pflueger. "When he gets emotional, it kind of picks up the energy naturally. When he starts getting into that mode, it kind of revs the whole team and energy up."
It was a season high for points in a league game for Notre Dame.
A 6-0 run in 68 seconds turned what had been a nine-point Irish lead (they led by 10 with 6:20 remaining) into a three-point lead, 77-74, with 3:35 remaining. It was back to executing in game situations in a league game, something the Irish know of all too well. Notre Dame got some needed breathing room with a Nate Laszewski 3 to bump it back to six, 80-74, with 2:34 left.
Wake Forest (9-11; 2-8 ACC) had lost five of its last six.
The Irish (12-8; 3-6) led by as many as 12 in the second half. They finished 22-for-25 from the free throw line.
It was Notre Dame’s first home league win in 354 days stretched over two seasons. The last time Notre Dame won prior to Wednesday was Feb. 10, 2019 against Georgia Tech. The Irish had lost six in a row at home in ACC play dating back to last year.
Gibbs led the Irish with a season-high 23 points.
"We needed this," Gibbs said. "This is a game we needed to propel ourselves into the (rest of) the season."
Power forward John Mooney finished with his 16th double double for points (19) and rebounds (13) this season and 37th of his career. He had that wrapped up before the first media timeout of the second half. The Irish also got a big night from Laszewski, who erupted for a season-high 18 points.
"It's been a long time coming over the last two years," Gibbs said of Laszewski. "Today was just amazing just watching him knock down shots and really grow and mature.
"Shoot that ball, Nate. Shoot that thing every single time you touch it."
Laszewski finished 6-of-8 from the floor in 18 minutes. Not only did he score it, he looked more like he belonged, something coach Mike Brey has pushed to see. Like, he wanted to see from Laszewski what he's seen from classmates Dane Goodwin and Prentiss Hubb. On Wednesday he saw it.
"We've seen Prentiss and we've seen Dane, 'Here they come,'" Brey said. "I thought tonight was that night for Nate. He hunted his shot. He's so active defensively."
Trailing by five at the break, Notre Dame erupted for 54 points in the second half. It led by as many as 12 and responded with a run of its own when Wake made one.
"Defense," Gibbs said of the difference after halftime. "We really locked in. Coach got on us. We needed to defend to win."
"We can get in an offensive rhythm," Brey said. "We scored enough to get out of there."
A Mooney rebound, bucket and free throw wiped out a five-point deficit and tied it at 43 with 17:17 remaining. Pflueger later dropped in a 3 to give the Irish some life and a 46-45 lead. Three free throws from Gibbs extended the Irish lead to four — which at that point was their largest of the night.
It was way too easy for the visitors in the first half, where they led for 18:29. Notre Dame again struggled to guard for extended stretches as Wake Forest shot 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3.
Brey returned to work the second half without his suit coat. It was the most important second half of the season for the Irish, trailing at home against the league’s last-place team.
The Irish led for the first 23 seconds of the first half, one that Hubb might have wanted back. He missed all nine of his shots in his 14 minutes. He finally got his first one to fall late in the second half, but it was a big one. His 3 gave the Irish an 11-point lead with 7:31 left.
Looking to change the home karma in league play, Notre Dame bypassed its usual pre-game hype video and turning out of the arena lights for the introduction of the starting lineups. It was Brey’s decision to go that route.
Brey went deeper into his bench early in the first half, dusting off Nik Djogo for the first time in four games. He played eight scoreless minutes. A short bench — the Irish carry eight available scholarship players — usually takes a toll as February nears.
Wednesday was the start of three straight league home games for Notre Dame, which entered the week the only winless team at home in the ACC in conference play. The Irish had lost their previous two league games — one at home and one on the road — by a combined three points.
A moment of silence was held before Wednesday’s national anthem for Notre Dame senior Annrose Jerry and former Notre Dame athletic director Gene Corrigan, both of whom died last week.
Notre Dame returns to action Saturday at home against Georgia Tech. Former Irish standout Kelly Tripucka enters the school’s Ring of Honor at halftime.
• NOTRE DAME 90, WAKE FOREST 80
At Purcell Pavilion
WAKE FOREST (80): Childress 7-14 9-10 24, Johnson 1-3 0-0 2, Mucius 5-12 2-2 13, White 3-7 2-3 9, Sarr 7-13 4-6 18, Neath 1-4 0-0 2, Oguama 2-3 0-0 4, Massoud 2-3 0-0 6, Wright 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-60 17-21 80.
NOTRE DAME (90): Gibbs 7-13 6-6 23, Hubb 1-11 2-2 5, Mooney 6-15 7-7 19, Pflueger 2-3 1-2 7, Goodwin 6-11 1-1 14, Laszewski 6-8 3-4 18, Durham 1-2 2-3 4, Djogo 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 29-66 22-25 90.
Halftime_Wake Forest 41-36. 3-Point Goals_Wake Forest 5-14 (Massoud 2-2, Childress 1-3, White 1-3, Mucius 1-4, Johnson 0-1, Neath 0-1), Notre Dame 10-26 (Laszewski 3-5, Gibbs 3-7, Pflueger 2-3, Goodwin 1-4, Hubb 1-4, Mooney 0-1, Djogo 0-2). Fouled Out_White. Rebounds_Wake Forest 33 (Childress, Sarr 6), Notre Dame 34 (Mooney 13). Assists_Wake Forest 14 (Childress 5), Notre Dame 15 (Gibbs, Pflueger 4). Total Fouls_Wake Forest 23, Notre Dame 17.