Points again a problem for Notre Dame in first conference loss

NDI Staff Report
ND Insider

ATLANTA — Sluggish offensively again to start, this time Notre Dame had no answers at the end.

The Irish saw their five-game win streak snapped Wednesday with a 60-53 loss to Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion. Notre Dame is 13-4, 3-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Irish senior power forward Martinas Geben scored a career-high 16 points with nine rebounds.

A John Mooney free throw tied it at 39 with 10:27 remaining. Less than two minutes and some bad possessions on both ends later, Notre Dame was down by eight. The Irish then were back within three following a Mooney dunk with 3:20 left. They could get no closer after missing their final five shots.

Mooney set career highs for points (11), rebounds (eight) and minutes (25).

"It was just a good game," Mooney said of his effort.

Irish guard Rex Pflueger missed all eight of his shots and went scoreless. He averaged 14 points the previous two games.

Notre Dame set season-low percentages for 3-pointers (22.2) and free throws (58.3). After scoring 88 points last week against North Carolina State, Notre Dame has scored a combined 104 (51, 53) the last two games.

"We keep digging and scratching even though we're a little short-handed," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "We didn't shoot it as great as we need to. Gotta make a few more of those to escape."

Down 10 at halftime, Notre Dame took a one-point lead, 38-37, on a Geben bucket with 11:15 remaining. A 7-0 run keyed by a T.J. Gibbs 3 helped erase what had once been a 12-point deficit.

"I love how our group's fighting," Brey said.

One of four repeat league opponents, Georgia Tech threw a variety of defensive looks at Notre Dame. The Irish couldn’t handle any of them early. Unable to get into any good offensive rhythm, the Irish were held to 20 points in the first half after getting only 19 four days earlier against Syracuse. They missed their final 11 shots from the field and went the last 8:55 without a field goal – and with only two free throws.

The perimeter of Gibbs, Pflueger and D.J. Harvey were a combined 1-of-16. The only bucket came from Gibbs.

Notre Dame missed all nine of its 3-pointers the first 20 minutes. Making matters worse, the Irish also missed four free throws. The Irish missed their first 11 from 3 before a Nikola Djogo corner 3 brought the Irish within six, 35-29.

Notre Dame entered its fourth ACC game having outrebounded its first three opponents by double figures in each game. That included a (+12) showing over the weekend in Syracuse, where Notre Dame had 21 offensive rebounds. On Wednesday, Georgia Tech won the battle on the boards, 39-33.

"They were really good on the backboard," Brey said.

Notre Dame again was without its two leading scorers — senior captains Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. Colson is out until late February with a broken left foot. Farrell has missed the last two and a half games with a sprained left ankle.

For the second straight game, the Irish lineup changed. Out went graduate student Austin Torres, who made his first start of the season Saturday at Syracuse. On Wednesday, it was junior power forward Elijah Burns who made his first career start.

The starting lineup for the second half saw Burns and Harvey go to the bench for Mooney and Djogo. The Irish had to do something to find some scoring. From someone.

The Irish were 1-3 in their previous three ACC visits to McCamish Pavilion. That included two crushing last-second losses the previous two years – by one point in 2016 and by two points in 2017. To help change the karma in midtown Atlanta, the Irish reportedly utilized a different locker room – one that’s smaller but closer to the court – than previous visits to a building once known as the “Thunder Dome.”

“We have had our hearts taken from us down here,” Brey said during his pre-game show.

Notre Dame returns home to play No. 20 North Carolina on Saturday.

NOTRE DAME (13-4): Geben 8-13 0-0 16, Burns 0-4 2-2 2, Pflueger 0-8 0-0 0, Gibbs 4-12 2-2 11, Harvey 2-6 0-2 6, Torres 1-2 0-0 2, Mooney 4-7 3-4 11, Djogo 2-7 0-2 5. Totals 21-59 7-12 53.

GEORGIA TECH (9-7): Gueye 4-6 0-0 8, Lammers 5-13 0-0 10, Alvarado 2-6 1-1 6, Okogie 6-13 4-5 17, Alston 2-4 0-0 5, Jackson 5-14 0-0 11, Haywood 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 25-59 5-6 60.

Halftime--Georgia Tech 30-20. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 4-18 (Harvey 2-5, Djogo 1-4, Gibbs 1-4, Burns 0-1, Mooney 0-2, Pflueger 0-2), Georgia Tech 5-12 (Okogie 1-1, Alston 1-1, Jackson 1-3, Haywood 1-3, Alvarado 1-4). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 33 (Geben 9), Georgia Tech 34 (Lammers 10). Assists--Notre Dame 16 (Gibbs 7), Georgia Tech 13 (Okogie 5). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 10, Georgia Tech 10.

Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger (0) has the ball knocked away by Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie (5) during Wednesday's game in Atlanta. (AP Photo/JOHN BAZEMORE)