Notre Dame hoops demolished at Duke

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

DURHAM, N.C. – Gripping a white towel on the bench for the final three minutes of a game that No. 10 Notre Dame never really was in after the first 60 seconds, senior captain Pat Connaughton glanced at the Cameron Indoor Stadium scoreboard and sighed.

To his right, fellow senior Jerian Grant stared off into some distant happy place where he wasn’t hounded and hassled by waves of defenders while trying to work through as frustrating an afternoon as he’s ever had in an Irish uniform. To Connaughton’s left, junior power forward Zach Auguste sat with his head in his hands after going scoreless for the first time this season.

It was that kind of a forgetful Saturday for the Irish, who were blitzed early and often by a No. 4 Duke team that refused to give the visitors from South Bend anything to feel good about.

When it was over, the Irish had suffered their most lopsided loss during the 15-year tenure of coach Mike Brey, and most lopsided since 1999 following a 90-60 victory by the Blue Devils, who led by as many as 35 points.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been blown out,” Connaughton said. “It’s something that it’s been so long, it can’t linger with us. We’ve got to bounce back.

“There’s not a whole lot we can take from it.”

After going 69 days with one loss, the Irish have dropped two games – both Atlantic Coast Conference contests – in eight days. Afterward, coaches and players had to convince themselves that this latest one, which unfolded in front of a frenzied sellout crowd and national television audience, did indeed count only as one.

It seemed like a whole lot more for an Irish team now 9-3 in league play.

“We’re 21-4 fellas; we’re still having a great season,” said Grant. “This is an unfortunate loss, especially the way we lost, but we’re moving on.”

Moving on to Clemson, which comes Tuesday, but this one might linger given the stakes, the visibility, and the inability for the Irish to do anything that resembled a team considered among the nation’s elite.

Saturday’s opening minute told everyone to buckle up. This Duke-Notre Dame sequel might be better than the first time around 10 days earlier. Then it was all over but the time on the clock and the final numbers on the scoreboard.

“It was one of those where you’re hanging on for dear life,” Brey said.

Needing to get off to a good start in atmosphere no Irish player has ever experienced at the collegiate level, an atmosphere that Brey admitted afterward might have rattled a team that insisted it was ready to handle, Notre Dame connected on its first two shots – both 3s – to grab a 6-0 lead in the opening 60 seconds.

Duke then dialed up the defensive pressure, which caused everything Notre Dame planned to do to crumble. With another stop or another Irish turnover, the Blue Devils proceeded to drive the ball into the Irish gut with little resistance some times, no resistance too many others. They moved the ball and found the open man, usually Matt Jones behind the 3-point line.

“They gave us a bunch of punches that we didn’t respond to – at both ends of the floor,” said Irish guard Steve Vasturia. “They did whatever they wanted offensively.”

As good as they were on offense, they were that much better on the other end. Duke simply smothered Notre Dame after those early 3s. It may have been 6-0 early, but the Irish never really had a chance.

“Their defense was really good for 20 minutes,” Brey said.

Grant was particularly frustrated on a day when nothing was easy for him. Coming into the contest, the Blue Devils made it a point to direct all their defensive attention at Grant, who had gone wild to the tune of 23 points and a career-high 12 assists inn that first game. Stop Grant, the Blue Devils stressed the day before the game, and they felt pretty good about beating the Irish for the first time in three chances.

Stop Grant they did. Much like Virginia did earlier in January, Duke never allowed Grant to get going with his screen-roll game. There simply was nothing there, no open floor space on Coach K Court for Grant to go and create, either for himself or for someone else.

With Grant neutralized, the Irish offense was stuck in neutral. Where to go next? What to do? How to score? No one knew. That early six-point Irish lead was flipped to a definite Duke advantage. A 19-3 run gave the Blue Devils a 10-point lead less than eight minutes after trailing. Duke then ran up by 22 with more than seven minutes still remaining before half. The Blue Devils were up 30 with 4:33 left… the half.

Duke just didn’t miss. The Blue Devils took 21 shots in the first 20 minutes. They made 17. That’s 81 percent. From….the….field.

That percentage actually increased the further out they stepped. Duke made seven of eight shots from 3 the first 20 minutes, which translates to 87.5 percent.

“We played great in the first half,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Our defense was tremendous.”

Notre Dame’s? Not so much.

“Eighty percent from the field, that’s something that just doesn’t happen, regardless of how good a defensive team it is,” Grant said. “We’ll figure it out.

“At the end of the day, you just have to play.”

It reached a point – and reached it early – that Grant just couldn’t mask the festering frustration. He barked at freshman teammate Bonzie Colson after a turnover, and continued to do it into a timeout. He rolled his eyes when Vasturia went left when he was expected to go right in a halfcourt set.

Grant also let it all get the best of him at the foul line. Shooting 77.3 percent coming in, Grant finished 1-of-7.

“They threw a lot of different things at me,” Grant said. “I kind of let my body language get to me, and it affected the rest of the team.”

As much of a struggle as the first half was, the Irish did string together a few stops and good offensive possessions in a second half spurt in which they got as close as 18 points following a Colson jumper. Just when it looked like it might get interesting, it didn’t.

Duke ran off seven unanswered. The only drama left was how many minutes the Irish reserves might log. All five starters were on the bench with 4:12 remaining.

At that point, it was all about getting out of Durham, getting home to South Bend, and getting on to the next road challenge.

“This group will bounce back very quickly,” Brey said. “Knowing the kind of guys and the kind of leaders I have, I would think they’re going to rally the troops and have some edge about them.”

That would be an improvement from Saturday.

NOTRE DAME (21-4):Demetrius Jackson 4-10 2-3 11, Jerian Grant 3-10 1-7 7, Pat Connaughton 3-7 0-0 9, Zach Auguste 0-2 0-2 0, Steve Vasturia 5-12 2-2 15, Austin Torres 1-1 0-2 2, V.J. Beachem 3-7 1-1 8, Matt Farrell 0-1 0-0 0, Eric Katenda 0-1 0-0 0, Austin Burgett 0-2 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0, Bonzie Colson 4-5 0-0 8. Totals 23-58 6-17 60.

DUKE (20-3):Quinn Cook 3-8 0-0 8, Tyrus Jones 3-4 4-6 12, Justise Winslow 6-11 6-8 19, Jahlil Okafor 9-11 2-2 20, Amile Jefferson 2-3 3-6 7, Grayson Allen 1-3 2-2 5, Matt Jones 6-9 2-2 17, Marshall Plumlee 1-2 0-0 2, Sean Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Pagliuca 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-51 19-26 90.Halftime--Duke 50-24. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 8-24 (Connaughton 3-5, Vasturia 3-8, Jackson 1-1, Beachem 1-5, Farrell 0-1, Burgett 0-2, Grant 0-2), Duke 9-15 (M. Jones 3-5, T. Jones 2-3, Cook 2-3, Winslow 1-2, Allen 1-2). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 26 (Connaughton 5), Duke 40 (Winslow 11). Assists--Notre Dame 12 (Grant 4), Duke 18 (T. Jones 7). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 19, Duke 18. A--9,

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Duke fans cheer as Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia inbounds the ball during the first half of Saturday's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. (AP Photo/GERRY BROOME)