Collective effort carries Notre Dame back to winning basketball ways

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – For the first time in eight games stretched over 30 rather miserable days, everything was flushed – the frustration of losing, the wondering when it might turn around, the sinking feeling that everything might be slipping away – and Notre Dame just flowed.

It looked Tuesday at home against Boston College like the Notre Dame program has looked for nearly two decades. Injury and ineffectiveness and seven-straight losses left it a shadowed shell of itself for nearly all of January.

But forget the previous four weeks when the loses mounted and the proper amount of points couldn’t be produced and how everything that coach Mike Brey had built during his 18 seasons in South Bend looked nothing like everyone had come to know it. For one much-needed night, Notre Dame got back to playing Notre Dame basketball.

Winning basketball.

The Irish passed it and shot it with a confidence seldom seen in their recent run of Atlantic Coast Conference losses. They also scored it at a clip that hadn’t been evident the last seven games, including the last two when they trailed at one point in each by 30.

On this night, all that mattered for the Irish was wiping everything clean and just competing, playing as freely and as easily and without a care like a summer pickup session when anybody and almost everybody can share it and shoot it and score it. The result was a 96-85 victory where five Irish scored double figures, including career nights from a pair of sophomores.

Guard T.J. Gibbs scored a team-high 28 points while power forward John Mooney added 16 points and five rebounds one game after being rendered useless by a sprained right ankle. The Irish (14-10; 4-7 ACC) also got solid and steady play and leadership from senior captains Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben to post their first league win since Jan. 6.

Why Tuesday?

“Because we needed it,” said Farrell who had 19 points and seven assists in 38 minutes. “I said it in the huddle in the second half, ‘This feels normal.’ Our offense was back and felt good to be flowing.

“It felt good to get moving like that and put up 96.”

Just the way Brey drew it up. Sort of.

“When in doubt, put 96 on the board,” he said. “Maybe we’ve jump-started our offense a little bit.”

Gibbs made shots. Mooney made shots. Farrell made shots. Geben, too. And Rex Pflueger. All five Irish who logged at least 30 minutes scored double figures. Along the way, the Irish proved something to themselves – play the way they did Tuesday, and this can be the end result. And not just Tuesday. Saturday against Florida State. Next week in road rematches with North Carolina and Boston College. The final seven games of league play. Into the conference tournament and who the heck knows, maybe beyond.

“No doubt,” Mooney said. “That was definitely a big night for us playing like that. Getting back to how we do things was a lot of fun.”

It was a season high for points in a conference game for the Irish, who shot 52.5 percent from the field, 55.2 percent from 3. It was the best shooting performance from the floor since Notre Dame connected on 57.6 percent of its shots on Dec. 19 against Dartmouth. It was the best Irish effort from 3 since hitting on 56.5 of its shots on Dec. 9 at Delaware.

“It was kind of rotating toward we needed (an offensive) night like this,” Brey said.

Notre Dame needed all of that efficiency to withstand a ridiculously unconscious effort from Boston College guard Jerome Robinson. Able to do anything he wanted nearly all night regardless of who was defending him, Robinson erupted for a career-high 46 points.

Forty. Six.

Robinson made 15 of 23 shots. He was 7-of-12 from 3 and made all nine of his free throws. He had 28 in the second half. His 46 were a Purcell Pavilion record. The previous high was 40 by Lowes Moore during the 1978 season, back when the building was known as the Athletic and Convocation Center.

At one point late in the second half he went for 11 consecutive points in 2:39, then nine more in 2:52. He connected on almost everything the attempted. Drives to the basket. Pull-ups. Jumpers. Post-ups in the lane. He was feeling it something serious.

“It might have been the best offensive game I’ve ever seen anyone play,” said Eagles coach Jim Christian.

Notre Dame flowed from the opening tip, also a rarity since the 30-point home victory over North Carolina State way back on Jan. 3. The Irish registered assists on each of their first 10 baskets and finished with 21. When that number flirts with 20, that’s an indication that everything is flowing.

And it flowed.

“That’s like the old days,” Brey said.

Notre Dame’s commitment to pass it better and move better and shoot it better allowed the home team to open an 18-point lead with 15:42 remaining. But that was right where Boston College wanted to be. It’s seemingly where the Eagles are the most comfortable – digging out of big deficits.

In seven games this season, Boston College had roared back from deficit of at least 10 points to lead or tie. Four of those were wins. It looked like win No. 5 might happen when Robinson got rolling. It didn’t matter who guarded the junior from Raleigh, N.C.

Gibbs tried. Pflueger tried. The guy in the third row behind the basket may have tried. Nobody could stop Robinson.

But on this night, unlike in the previous seven league games, the Irish had answers. When it got to a two-point game with 6:49 remaining, Geben delivered a big basket on one end and a big rebound on the other. Farrell walked into a wide-open 3-pointer. Geben made a couple free throws. Gibbs connected on a runner. Mooney moved to his favorite spot – the corner – and banged in a 3. Even Pflueger made a fade jumper in the lane.

Everything the Irish did pointed to this being the night that the losing streak died. The night some semblance of order was restored. The night life was breathed back into Notre Dame’s season.

Nothing else mattered.

Except playing.

Except winning.

“It was getting fed up with losing,” said Geben, who went for 16 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double double. “We needed to get our edge back.

“It’s a ‘W’ and that’s all that matters.”

Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell (5) celebrates with his team after the Irish won the Boston College at Notre Dame NCAA men's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

NOTRE DAME 96, BOSTON COLLEGE 85

At Purcell Pavilion

BOSTON COLLEGE (14-10): Nik Popovic 1-2 0-0 2, Steffon Mitchell 3-8 0-0 6, Ky Bowman 4-13 0-0 11, Jerome Robinson 15-23 9-9 46, Jordan Chatman 2-7 2-2 7, Luka Kraljevic 1-2 2-2 4, Vin Baker 1-2 0-0 3, Johncarlos Reyes 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 30-61 13-13 85.

 NOTRE DAME (14-10): Austin Torres 2-5 0-0 4, Martinas Geben 5-9 6-6 16, T.J. Gibbs 8-11 7-7 28, Rex Pflueger 4-7 3-4 13, Matt Farrell 7-15 0-4 19, John Mooney 5-11 2-2 16, Elijah Burns 0-0 0-0 0, Nik Djogo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-59 18-23 96.

Halftime--Notre Dame 47-38. 3-Point Goals--Boston College 12-30 (Robinson 7-12, Bowman 3-7, Baker 1-2, Chatman 1-5, Kraljevic 0-1, Mitchell 0-3), Notre Dame 16-29 (Gibbs 5-7, Farrell 5-11, Mooney 4-7, Pflueger 2-3, Djogo 0-1). Fouled Out--Kraljevic, Mitchell. Rebounds--Boston College 31 (Mitchell 11), Notre Dame 29 (Geben 11). Assists--Boston College 14 (Bowman 5), Notre Dame 21 (Farrell 7). Total Fouls--Boston College 19, Notre Dame 13. A--8,953 (9,149).