No. 7 Miami keeps Notre Dame on ACC slide

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — All the recent sluggish efforts and road struggles were supposed to be solved Wednesday when the Notre Dame men’s basketball team returned home for the final week of the regular season.

Didn’t work out that way.

Not even close.

Seventh-ranked Miami (Fla.), a team on such a nice roll that Irish coach Mike Brey believes it could well win it all next month, just wouldn’t have it. The Hurricanes jumped all over an Irish team in desperate need of confidence right from the jump before answering any semblance of scoring runs from the home team the rest of the way for a 68-50 victory at Purcell Pavilion.

Losers of consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2013-14 season after 13 “bounce-back” victories, Notre Dame set a season low for points for a second straight game.

A team that entered Wednesday leading the nation in offensive efficiency has been anything but efficient for the better part of two weeks. Notre Dame has lost three of four. Answers as to how it finds its way out of this aren’t going to come easily. Not after the Irish again labored to make shots from the field (34.0 percent) and from 3 (18.8 percent).

How does this get fixed?

“I have absolutely no freakin’ idea right now,” Brey said. “I am going to spend a lot of time tonight and tomorrow. I told my guys, ‘I’ve got to try and figure out how to help you.’''

After going for 56 in a 21-point loss Saturday at Florida State, the Irish barely got to half a 100 on Wednesday. It was one shy of tying the school record for fewest points in an ACC game.

“We’ve been scoring in the 50s for a while,” Brey said. “And when you score in the 50s, you lose a lot of those. And we have.”

Getting the Irish guards back in gear would be a good place to start. The backcourt of Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia were a key reason why Notre Dame, as recently as the middle of last month, had a chance of chasing down a regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Both were scoring at a high clip, making plays for others regularly and doing everything good guards need to do on really good teams.

On Wednesday, against old, experienced and aggressive counterparts, the Irish guards simply were not good. Jackson made just three of his 13 shots from the field and finished with seven points.

“We just try to play as hard as we can every game,” Jackson said. “We’ve been in a little funk offensively. We’ve just got to find a way to win games and just gotta be better.”

Vasturia missed all nine of his shots and tied his season low for points with four.

“We’re struggling a little bit right now,” Vasturia said. “The good thing about this group is we’ve bounced back. We’ve just got to figure it out and play the way we play.”

Notre Dame (19-10; 10-7) had controlled its ACC tournament destiny heading into the final week that included two home games. All the Irish had to do was win both and they would earn one of the tournament’s four double-byes. Now, who knows what’s in store next week in Washington.

The Irish still have an outside shot at a double-bye; they also could finish eighth. For now, winning Saturday at home against North Carolina State on Senior Day is all that matters.

“I’d love to leave this gym with a win,” said senior power forward Zach Auguste who had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the 17th double-double this season.

Miami (24-5; 13-4) has won eight of its last nine and 11 of its last 13. It enters Saturday’s regular-season finale tied with North Carolina atop the ACC. Four Hurricanes scored double figures led by Angel Rodriguez with 19.

“We just played very well from start to finish,” said coach Jim Larranaga. “We executed our game plan. Our guys were just very determined. They know where we are in the standings; they know how close we are to finishing the regular season on a really high note.”

Seemingly asleep again to start, Notre Dame allowed Miami to score the first 12 points in less than four minutes. It took six minutes for the home team to get on the scoreboard. The Irish deficit hit 18 less than eight minutes in. That matched the largest margin that Notre Dame has trailed at home all season.

“It’s tough to bounce back from that,” Vasturia said. “Mentally, you look up with no points at the first media timeout and that kind of kills you.

“Then you’re fighting your way back the rest of the game.”

The Irish haven't led in each of their last two games.

For as bad as the start was, for as long as they labored to make a shot, the Irish had a chance to make it really interesting late in the first half. Trailing by 15 points and seemingly done until intermission, Notre Dame showed some life and ran off eight unanswered points. The home bench, the building, and the guys in the white jerseys finally came to life.

But Notre Dame promptly turned it over on three straight offensive possessions. A manageable seven-point deficit was back to 13 at the break.

“It would have been interesting to see how the second half would have been if we didn’t turn it over three times in the last three minutes when you’re getting a little bit of momentum,” Brey said.

That momentum looked like it might surface a time or two or three in the second half. But Brey knew better.

“That was kind of fake,” he said of any potential second-half surge. “We got it to 12 or 11 against these guys and it’s like, ‘Nah.’”

MIAMI (24-5): Davon Reed 4-9 2-2 10, Sheldon McClellan 5-11 5-5 17, Angel Rodriguez 7-13 2-2 19, Kamari Murphy 1-3 0-0 2, Tonye Jekiri 7-14 0-0 14, Anthony Lawrence Jr. 0-2 0-0 0, James Palmer 1-4 0-0 3, Ivan Cruz Uceda 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 26-58 9-9 68.

NOTRE DAME (19-10): VJ Beachem 2-7 0-0 5, Demetrius Jackson 3-13 0-0 7, Austin Burgett 0-0 0-0 0, Zach Auguste 6-9 6-8 18, Stev Vasturia 0-9 4-4 4, Rex Pflueger 1-3 0-0 3, Austin Torres 1-1 0-1 2, Matt Ryan 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Farrell 0-1 0-0 0, Matinas Geben 0-0 0-0 0, Bonzie Colson 4-6 3-3 11. Totals 17-50 13-16 50.

Halftime--Miami 35-22. 3-Point Goals--Miami 7-20 (Rodriguez 3-5, McClellan 2-5, Cruz Uceda 1-2, Palmer 1-3, Lawrence Jr. 0-2, Reed 0-3), Notre Dame 3-16 (Beachem 1-2, Pflueger 1-3, Jackson 1-6, Ryan 0-1, Vasturia 0-4). Fouled Out--Rodriguez. Rebounds--Miami 39 (Jekiri 9), Notre Dame 26 (Auguste 11). Assists--Miami 13 (Rodriguez 5), Notre Dame 8 (Jackson 5). Total Fouls--Miami 14, Notre Dame 14. A--9,149.

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Miami’s Angel Rodriguez drives between Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson and A.J. Burgett during Wednesday's game at Purcell Pavilion.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN