Noie: Notre Dame men's basketball wins a weird one

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — What already has been a surreal season dived deeper into the bizarro basketball world during a Saturday matinee at Purcell Pavilion.

Losers of its first two league games after it couldn’t make the plays necessary to close out close contests, Notre Dame was down to six available scholarship players — seven if the emergency glass finally was cracked on freshman Chris Doherty’s ongoing redshirt status — to figure a way to beat Boston College for the 11th straight time as an Atlantic Coast Conference colleague.

Oh, and figure it out while putting a freshman who seemingly couldn’t make two shots from any spot in forever at the foul line with the home team down one and 2.6 seconds to play.

Like those odds? Prentiss Hubb did. A 59.3 foul shooter, Hubb made both free throws to give Notre Dame (11-5; 1-2) its first conference win, 69-66. Fitting that on a day when Notre Dame honored the man who established the D.C. pipeline (inducting Bob Whitmore into the Ring of Honor), a kid from the D.C. area sealed the win.

“My teammates count on me every day in practice and in games,” Hubb said. “They expect me to make big-time plays like that.”

Hubb expects the same, even if he hadn’t delivered. He made his free throws having shot (and missed) exactly one the previous six games. Here’s where it gets good — Hubb scored 16 points and played 39 minutes, both career highs. Had the rotation status quo remained less than 30 minutes before Saturday’s game, Hubb would have been out of the starting lineup for the first time since mid-November. He might not have even been on the floor at the end of another close game.

But he was, so he did the work.

“That just comes with always being ready to play, no matter what the situation is,” Hubb said. “That’s just me being out there always being ready and not shying away from the big lights.

“I gotta make the shots and gotta win the game for my team.”

Just when you think you’ve got this team and this rotation figured out, everything goes up for grabs. A senior leaves, another wrecks a knee. Guys get hurt. Sick. And then it all changes. A team that’s been day-to-day actually became minute-by-minute Saturday.

Junior guard T.J. Gibbs participated in the shoot-around and team meal. He returned to the court and worked through his usual shot-taking and shot-making routine about two hours before the game. But when he went back to the locker room to get into game mode, it all fell apart.

A migraine headache kicked in. Blurry vision followed. Waves of nausea arrived. Vomiting ensued. Gibbs was sent back to the Morris Inn, where the players stay while on winter break.

Talk about the ultimate wing it — absent your top scorer (14.7 points), your only veteran handler, down to one available sub in a league game? Ah, what the heck?

“Just play,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Nobody gives us a shot with what’s going on. Let’s be a great story.”

Power forward Juwan Durham was out after a flare-up of the sprained ankle he suffered New Year’s Day at No. 9 Virginia Tech. Gibbs will be available Tuesday at No. 12 North Carolina. Durham might not be. Doesn’t really matter at this point. The Irish will go and play with however many guys can go.

Can you play with four? The Irish might be close to finding out. Of the six who did go Saturday, four tied or set career highs for minutes. They’re the Iron Irish.

“All six of ‘em are happy about their playing time,” Brey said.

How surreal has it become? Walk-on guard Liam Nelligan worked Saturday morning in a white (starter’s jersey) during shoot-around. Brey just wanted to have him ready. Little did he know that Nelligan’s not that far off.

“Let’s make it a great story,” Brey said. “And it is. I’m really proud of our group.”

Nothing was wrong Saturday with junior power forward John Mooney, and that was needed news. He scored 27 points in 39 minutes, both career highs. He grabbed 12 rebounds for his eighth double double of the season. On a day when Mooney needed to be the man, he was. Might as well hand him conference player of the week award now, though someone somewhere will find a way to give it to somebody at Duke because, well, that’s usually how that stuff works.

“No one’s feeling bad for us right now, the fact that we’re down a few guys,” Mooney said. “As one of the older guys, just kind of brought it upon myself to go out there and just play.”

Beating a bad Boston College team — and the Eagles (9-6; 0-3) are awful — might not seem like much now. But when a play needed to be made, the Irish made one. That’s a big step for this team. Two or three or four weekends down the line, it might mean a lot. Forget youth or numbers or who wasn’t there. The Irish needed a win.

A day that seemed destined for defeat — the consensus went from no way the Irish would win to no way they’d lose to, wait, they’re going to find ANOTHER way to let a league game get away — ended with a parade of praise.

Brey praised his players. Mooney praised the three freshmen in the starting lineup. Hubb praised his teammates for sticking with him.

The head coach cautioned earlier in the week that the lineup might look a little different Saturday. Nobody could have imagined the way the Irish started.

Most importantly, it was how they finished.

NOTRE DAME 69, BOSTON COLLEGE 66

BOSTON COLLEGE (9-6): Jai.Hamilton 2-6 0-0 4, Popovic 7-13 1-1 15, Chatman 3-11 0-0 7, Bowman 8-17 4-5 24, Tabbs 5-12 2-2 13, Kraljevic 1-1 1-2 3, Reyes 0-2 0-0 0, Herren 0-2 0-0 0, Jar.Hamilton 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-65 8-10 66.

NOTRE DAME (11-5): Laszewski 2-12 4-5 8, Mooney 8-13 9-9 27, Hubb 5-15 2-2 16, Goodwin 3-9 2-2 9, Harvey 3-11 3-4 9, Djogo 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 21-61 20-23 69.

Halftime—Notre Dame 31-25. 3-Point Goals—Boston College 6-21 (Bowman 4-7, Tabbs 1-4, Chatman 1-6, Jai.Hamilton 0-1, Popovic 0-1, Herren 0-2), Notre Dame 7-26 (Hubb 4-8, Mooney 2-4, Goodwin 1-2, Djogo 0-1, Harvey 0-4, Laszewski 0-7). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Boston College 38 (Bowman 16), Notre Dame 38 (Mooney 12). Assists—Boston College 9 (Jai.Hamilton 3), Notre Dame 11 (Hubb 5). Total Fouls—Boston College 19, Notre Dame 15. A—8,442 (9,149).

Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb (3) drives against Boston College’s Ky Bowman (0) during Saturday’s game in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Dane Goodwin (23) tries to shoot past Boston College’s Jairus Hamilton (1) during Saturday’s game in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski (14) tries to shoot against Boston College’s Nik Popovic (21) after being fouled during Saturday's game in South Bend.