Road woes continue for Notre Dame men at Wake Forest

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - It’s become more of the same for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team. Only the names of the places where it all plays out change.

The end result remains.

Involved in another close game in the closing minutes and in position for the second time in five days to win its first Atlantic Coast Conference road game, Notre Dame again couldn’t make the necessary plays down the stretch — this time on either end — Saturday against Wake Forest before falling 65-58.

The Irish are 0-4 on the road in league play for the first time since 1995-96, which was their first season in the Big East. It’s the first time since 2008-09 that Notre Dame (11-9; 2-5) has lost four in a row on the road.

This one got away in myriad ways. Unable to defend, unable to make a shot, unable to make a big play at a big time to keep believing, the Irish allowed the Demon Deacons to build confidence by making big plays and big shots at big moments.

They were the more-confident team at winning time.

Where is the Irish confidence?

“Ask ’em,” coach Mike Brey said,

“It could be higher,” admitted senior guard Eric Atkins.

Notre Dame has lost five of six since opening league play with a victory over Duke. That game was 22 days ago, but seems more like 22 years.

“We’ve got to keep working hard,” said senior power forward Garrick Sherman, who led the Irish with 20 points. “We can’t focus on the past. There’s nothing we can do about it now.”

There also wasn’t much Notre Dame could do about Wake Forest forward Devin Thomas. He did as he pleased around the rim and made his first 10 shots. Thomas finished 10-of-11 for a game-high 21 points.

“Big game for us and a big win for us,” Thomas said. “We needed to come out strong and not have a letdown after coming off the road of our first ACC (road) win.”

Wake Forest improved to 14-6, 4-3. The Demon Deacons are 12-0 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Unable to get the key defensive stop at a key time cost Notre Dame chances at Georgia Tech, at Maryland and, most recently, Tuesday at Florida State, which hit the game-winning basket with four seconds to play. On Saturday, the Irish defense again had its struggles — a lot of them — in allowing Wake to shoot 56.5 percent from the field in the second half.

But this time, the loss included a twist. It was the inability of the Irish to do anything well offensively for extended stretches that proved pivotal. Notre Dame managed only two baskets — both by Sherman — over the final 5:12 of a one-possession game.

A Sherman free throw gave the Irish a 54-53 lead with 2:24 left. Wake responded with a Codi Miller-McIntyre drive to give the home team a 55-54 lead with 1:53 left. It was a one-possession game five times over the next 90 seconds, but the Irish never could get the lead.

Wake Forest led by as many as nine in the first half as Notre Dame went nearly eight minutes with only one basket. The Irish scored a season-low 21 points in the opening 20 minutes.

“We’ve got to move the ball more; that’s why we get stagnant,” Atkins said. “We’ve got to keep moving and stop just staring at Sherm hoping he makes a play.”

While the Irish figure it out on the road, freshman guard Demetrius Jackson continues to try and find his place. The McDonald’s All-American scored one point in 22 minutes. Tougher still was that Jackson, who averaged 25.9 points as a prep senior, played those 22 minutes Saturday without taking a single shot.

No looks from 3, even though they were there. No mid-range jumpers, even though they were there. No hard drives and finishes at the rim, even though they were there.

Nothing.

How does that happen?

“Good question,” Jackson responded.

What could Jackson have done better to get more involved?

“It’s another good question,” Jackson said.

So there’s no answer why someone of Jackson’s skills could go shot-less in a game in which someone in blue needed to make a few?

“No, sir,” Jackson said.

Atkins offered a suggestion on how Jackson can get more involved.

“He just has to be more aggressive,” he said. “He’s doing a good job in practice and all that, but we all need to tell him he needs to shoot more. Just get him more involved somehow.”

What can Jackson do to be better when he’s on the floor?

“Whatever my team needs me to do,” he said. “Whatever Coach (Brey) asks of me.”

The one time Jackson aggressively drove the ball, he was fouled and split a pair of free throws. Brey liked Jackson’s attack frame of mind, but admitted afterward that was a time when he had the chance to shoot the 3 and didn’t take it.

The Irish finished 2-of-16 from 3.

“You’ve got to make a couple of those to feel good on the road,” Brey said. “We could make enough 3-point shots to feel like we’re in a pretty good groove. I didn’t think any of them were going in.”

One of the few bright spots Saturday surfaced from someone in a game for the first time in 18 days. Power forward Tom Knight missed the previous four games with a combination sprained ankle/flu/pneumonia. He only returned to practice Thursday. Brey was unsure if he would get anything out of the left-hander, then watched Knight go for eight points (on 4-of-4 from eh floor) for eight points and three rebounds.

“I’m surprised he gave us what he gave us,” Brey said. “It’s a key to have him back healthy.”

The Irish worked Saturday with only seven players. Sophomore Austin Burgett, who had started and played well the previous two games, was in street clothes, and could be for the rest of the season.

Burgett is scheduled Tuesday to undergo an outpatient cardiac procedure to address a rapid heartbeat that surfaced during the second half of the Florida State game. Brey said following Saturday’s game that he doesn’t know when — or if — Burgett will back.

NOTRE DAME (11-9): Eric Atkins 6-14 0-0 13, Garrick Sherman 8-15 4-5 20, Demetrius Jackson 0-0 1-2 1, Pat Connaughton 4-14 1-1 10, Zach Auguste 1-4 2-2 4, V.J. Beachem 0-3 0-2 0, Tom Knight 4-4 0-0 8, Steve Vasturia 1-7 0-0 2. Totals 24-61 8-12 58.

WAKE FOREST (14-6): Codi Miller-McIntyre 3-5 2-2 8, Madison Jones 1-2 0-0 2, Devin Thomas 10-11 1-3 21, Travis McKie 3-10 6-6 14, Tyler Cavanaugh 1-8 2-2 4, Coron Williams 4-7 0-0 11, Miles Overton 0-1 0-0 0, Andre Washington 0-0 0-0 0, Aaron Rountree III 0-0 0-0 0, Arnaud William Adala Moto 1-3 3-6 5. Totals 23-47 14-19 65.

Halftime — Wake Forest 25-21. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 2-16 (Atkins 1-5, Connaughton 1-7, Beachem 0-1, Vasturia 0-3), Wake Forest 5-17 (Williams 3-6, McKie 2-7, Overton 0-1, Miller-McIntyre 0-1, Cavanaugh 0-2). Fouled Out — Sherman. Rebounds — Notre Dame 33 (Connaughton 8), Wake Forest 32 (Cavanaugh 7). Assists — Notre Dame 8 (Atkins 6), Wake Forest 13 (Jones 3). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 16, Wake Forest 12. A — 11,710.

Wake Forest forward Arnaud William Adala Moto (45) gets by the Notre Dame forwards Tom Knight (25) and Zach Auguste (30) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/The Winston-Salem Journal, Bruce Chapman)