Men's basketball: Irish give Yellow Jackets little life, while showing a whole lot of it

Greg McKenna
Tribune Correspondent
Feb 26, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin (23) reacts after a three point basket in the first half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame inked its 14th conference win of the season Saturday night with a 90-56 men's basketball victory over Georgia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.

The only other time the Irish have done that in the ACC was 2014-15, when Mike Brey’s team won the ACC Tournament and reached the NCAA Elite Eight.

No Notre Dame team, in any conference, has ever notched 15 victories in conference play. Now, Brey’s senior-leaden team will have the chance to set the program mark at Florida State. If Notre Dame doesn’t get the job done in Tallahassee on Wednesday, the Irish will have another shot at it on senior night Saturday against Pittsburgh.

► More:Men's Basketball: Start planning for Selection Sunday. Really. It's OK. It will happen

►More:One game at a time: A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 men’s baske tball season

Brey said he was “thrilled” for his seniors.

“We haven’t had a game like that in league play,” Brey said of the blowout. “But I thought we were really ready to play. And getting stops and being able to run is something we’re understanding is a fun way to play.”

Dane Goodwin was the senior who set the tone Saturday. Notre Dame’s leading scorer this season had a rare off night in the win over Syracuse Wednesday, when he was held to single digits for the third time this season after shooting just 3-of-11 from the field, including 1-of-6 from 3.

The ACC leader in 3-point percentage couldn’t have started much hotter on Saturday though. Goodwin had all of his 17 points in the first half as the Irish (21-8, 14-4 ACC) scored early and often to take a 46-27 lead into halftime.

Notre Dame finished with 21 assists, with Prentiss Hubb pacing the Irish with six.

"We’re a very connected group on and off the court,” said Cormac Ryan, who led the Irish with 10 rebounds. “So seeing each other succeed is great. And in basketball, when you’re playing right, it feels better.”

Jordan Usher led the Yellow Jackets (11-18, 4-14 ACC) with 16 points. Guard Michael Devoe entered the game third in the conference in scoring but was held to just 7 points on 3 of 10 shooting.

Goodwin scored Notre Dame’s first four points in the paint before later adding a three to punctuate an Irish 9-2 run out the gate. The Irish went back to Goodwin after the media timeout, with Paul Atkinson Jr. finding the Upper Arlington, Ohio, native in the soft spot of zone for a layup.

Little seemed to fall for Georgia Tech, who started 0-of-6 from 3. Miles Kelly hit the Yellow Jacket’s first 3 after being left alone in the corner to cut the lead to five midway through the first half. Riley High School grad Blake Wesley answered with a trey of his own to break an Irish scoring draught of over three minutes.

Tech finished the first half 2-of-11 from 3 while shooting under 40% from the field. Notre Dame went 7-of-11 from 3 before halftime.

Tech again cut the lead to single digits with five minutes left in the first half. However, Goodwin then hit two big 3s to get the crowd on its feet, first being found wide open by Hubb on the right before hitting from the identical spot off a feed from Wesley in transition less than 20 seconds later.

Feb 26, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Nate Laszewski (14) and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forward Jalon Moore (14) reach for a rebound in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Devoe failed to answer for Tech from deep twice, and Wesley and Goodwin drove for buckets to cap a 10-0 run in less than a minute and half. Suddenly, Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets were down 19.

“They were making a lot of threes,” he said. “I think they’re playing as well as anybody in America right now.”

Notre Dame had 12 assists in the first half, but when Notre Dame had the opportunity to hold for the last shot, the Irish gave the ball to Wesley and got out of the way.

Wesley hit a 3 despite being fouled with four seconds left, though he missed the free throw that would have stretched the lead to twenty. The Irish shot just 50% from the charity stripe in the first half, with Wesley going 1-of-4 from the line before halftime.

Wesley became the only true freshman in the country Saturday to record 400 points, 100 rebounds, 50 3-pointers, 70 assists and 30 steals so far this season. The only player to accomplish that in college basketball last season was Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State.

“I’m just so pleased at the feel for the game that you don’t really have to have in high school,” Brey said of his potential NBA lottery pick, who received pleas from the student section to stay “one more year” while shooting free throws with under five minutes left. “You just get 40 and you can take bad shots and force stuff. He’s got a really good basketball IQ that we’ve been able to connect with.”

The Irish barrage from beyond the arc continued after halftime. Ryan opened the half with two 3s, Atkinson had a layup and transition dunk, Trey Wertz hit the second of his three 3-pointers and the Irish stretched the lead to 28 at the under-16.

Brey said Ryan seems to have gained confidence offensively since being moved into the staring lineup when Nate Laszewski missed the win over Louisville due to injury.

“Starting has allowed me to kind of get off to a good start in games and kind of get going right away, get a feel of the game,” Ryan said.

Tech would answer with a 7-0 run before Wertz hit another 3.

As the Irish cruised, freshman J.R. Konieczny made his sixth appearance of the season. The Sain Joseph High School grad brought the crowd to its feet in the final minutes with a two-handed dunk and alley-oop finish off feeds from Elijah Morgan.

Notre Dame closed the game on a 10-0 run for its largest margin of victory this season. The Yellow Jackets are the fourth ACC foe swept by the Irish this season, who have also beaten Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina State twice. Notre Dame has won seven of its last eight games.

Ryan was asked whether anyone in the country can beat the Irish when they shoot as well as they did from 3 (56.5%) Saturday.

“Good luck,” he said.