RALEIGH, N.C. — Good in the first half, not so good in the second.
That’s not the recipe to win a second-straight road game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, something Notre Dame learned Wednesday at North Carolina State.
Up by a dozen at one point, the Irish offense ran out of gas at the wrong time, which ended in a 73-68 loss at PNC Arena.
“Their physicality hurt us in the second half,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “I thought we played well enough to escape.”
Notre Dame won the rebounding battle, 36-34, but North Carolina State’s 16 offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points was a crusher.
Notre Dame falls to 10-5, 1-3; North Carolina State is 11-4; 2-2. The Irish led for 31:29; the Wolfpack led for 3:16. Notre Dame managed only 10 points the final 10:30.
Sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb scored a career-high 24 points for the Irish. Fellow guard T.J. Gibbs added 14.
A pair of D.J. Funderburk free throws gave North Carolina State a 68-66 lead with 1:37 left. It was the home team’s first lead since 10-7 with 16:31 left in the first half. It was all Irish for much of the night, but not when it really needed to be. Late.
A Markell Johnson drive and score with two seconds left on the shot clock gave the Wolfpack a four-point lead with less than a minute left. Two Hubb free throws brought the Irish back within two, 70-68.
The Irish led by as many as 12 in the second half.
Irish power forward John Mooney delivered his 12th double double for points (14) and rebounds (14) this season. His ninth and 10th points were big ones. They gave the Irish a 62-60 lead with 4:04 remaining.
Mooney returned with two more buckets close to the bucket to keep the Irish ahead. Just like Saturday at Syracuse, back and forth this one went.
Mooney fouled out with the game tied and 1:38 left. With it, went Notre Dame’s only consistent offensive threat, and really, its best chance to win.
Amazingly, Mooney was left off Wednesday’s Wooden Award midseason watch list, which had the names of 25 players on track for the nation’s most prestigious award. Mooney, who’s second in the nation and tops in the ACC in rebounding (13.5) was not there.
A pair of Hubb layups, one with each hand, allowed Notre Dame to open its largest lead of the game early in the second half at 11 points. A bucket with the right hand made it 45-34 Irish. They were rolling. The Irish then went scoreless for nearly three minutes before a Dane Goodwin drive bumped their lead back to 10. Mooney then picked up fouls 2 and 3 seconds apart. That allowed the Wolfpack to get within eight.
An offense that had flowed so easily and effortlessly for the entire first half went stagnant for stretches in the second. That allowed the Wolfpack to hang around and make it interesting.
Notre Dame shot 41.9 percent from the floor and 9.1 percent (1-of-11) from 3 in the second half.
A Braxton Beverly 3 — a third offensive chance after two rebounds — brought the Wolfpack within two, 60-58, with 6:19 left.
“That’s like the basketball gods saying, ‘Now you don’t deserve to win,’” Brey said. “You gotta get that (rebound).”
When Funderburk banged in two free throws with 5:27 left, it was tied at 60.
Up to that point, Notre Dame had led for 30:44. North Carolina State had led for all of 1:39.
Notre Dame played without graduate student guard Rex Pflueger, who was held out of Wednesday’s game because of a bone bruise in his left knee. It’s the same knee that was surgically repaired a year ago. Brey said earlier this week that bone bruising is common for players who have their anterior cruciate ligament repaired, as Pflueger did.
Goodwin made his first start of the season in place of Pflueger.
Pflueger aggravated what already had been a sore knee late in the first half of Saturday’s win at Syracuse. An Orange player bumped into Pflueger’s knee during an Irish fast break.
Pflueger will be a game-time decision for Saturday’s home game against No. 13 Louisville. No Pflueger left the Irish with seven available scholarship players. That also forced the Irish to get creative on defense. Notre Dame played some man for possessions. The Irish then went to a 2-3 zone in others. They also threw in some 1-3-1 for a possession here and there. Anything to mix it up and keep the key guys from falling into any sort of foul trouble.
Notre Dame played only six guys in the first half.
North Carolina State played without its leading scorer and rebounder C.J. Brice, who missed his third-straight game while dealing with concussion symptoms.
Needing to be good with the ball and make shots and defend from the jump, Notre Dame led for a good chunk – like 16:08 — of the first half. The Irish extended their lead to as many as nine with under five minutes remaining following Hubb’s fourth 3-pointer. That made it 35-26. After tying his career high of 22 points Saturday at Syracuse, Hubb hit for 14 in the first half.
Hubb also went to the bench with his second foul with 68 seconds remaining in the first half. Wolfpack guard Markell Johnson then left for the locker room in the closing seconds looking like he was nursing some sort of lower-body injury. He was said to be suffering from back spasms with his return questionable. Johnson led the Wolfpack with 13 points in the first half. He then started the second half.
The Irish led at the break, 39-34. They shot 53.8 percent from the floor, 71.4 percent from 3. They were almost as good as Red Panda’s halftime show. Almost.
The Irish entered Wednesday having made at least 15 3-pointers in three of their previous five games. Those big shooting nights all came against teams that played large helpings of zone defense. That’s not North Carolina State’s M.O. The Wolfpack are more about man-to-man defense, suffocating pressure that hounds teams into turnovers. The Irish opened the week leading the nation in assist/turnover ratio and fewest turnovers and fewest fouls basically halfway through the regular season.
Notre Dame turned it over seven times in the first half.
NOTRE DAME (10-5): Gibbs 5-9 4-4 14, Hubb 9-14 2-2 24, Mooney 7-14 0-1 14, Goodwin 4-9 0-0 9, Laszewski 1-5 0-0 3, Durham 1-6 2-3 4. Totals 27-57 8-10 68.
NC STATE (11-4): Johnson 9-15 5-6 27, Beverly 4-12 0-0 10, Hellems 5-14 0-0 12, Bates 3-4 0-1 6, Daniels 1-7 0-0 2, Funderburk 4-6 8-10 16, Andree 0-6 0-0 0, Dixon 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-65 13-17 73.
Halftime_Notre Dame 39-34. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 6-18 (Hubb 4-7, Goodwin 1-2, Laszewski 1-5, Mooney 0-1, Gibbs 0-3), NC State 8-28 (Johnson 4-9, Hellems 2-4, Beverly 2-6, Daniels 0-3, Andree 0-6). Fouled Out_Mooney. Rebounds_Notre Dame 31 (Mooney 14), NC State 32 (Funderburk 9). Assists_Notre Dame 11 (Gibbs 6), NC State 16 (Johnson 7). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 16, NC State 14.