Noie: Notre Dame out of answers after another ACC near-miss

Staff reports
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Buried beneath the rubble of another Atlantic Coast Conference contest that crumbled into another hard-luck loss for Notre Dame lies a team that has all the necessary pieces.

A team that can make the big shot when the big shot is needed. A team that can get the big stop when the big stop is necessary. A team that can jump with both feet into another close contest and figure its way out with big shots and big plays that leave the other team wondering how it got away.

The players believe it. The head coach believes it.

Instead seeing it all surface Saturday against No. 17 North Carolina State, Notre Dame slipped further into the ACC abyss following a 77-73 loss. It dropped the Irish to 11-7 overall, 1-4 and spiraling through an unforgiving conference stretch of five games against four ranked teams.

“We have some skilled offensive guys out there,” coach Mike Brey said. “We just haven’t been able to do it. That is frustrating. It puts so much pressure on your defense.”

On everything. To the point that it becomes paralysis by analysis. Too many guys thinking, not enough just playing. In this league, that’s a problem. A huge problem. Brey keeps telling himself and his players that they’ll start flowing and going and the law of averages will swing their direction. But will they?

“Sometimes,” Brey said, “I’m beginning to wonder.”

Remember when Notre Dame won games like these? Conference home contests against ranked teams? What happened to those days? Long gone. Maybe next year.

Saturday was the 10th-straight loss by Notre Dame against a ranked team. The Irish haven’t won at home against a ranked team since the 2016-17 season, not coincidentally the last time they went to the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a Top 25 team since early last season when it whacked Wichita State out in Maui. Fitting that Saturday was Hawaiian Day at Purcell Pavilion. That night out in the Pacific, Mike Brey pranced through the locker room without a shirt. Saturday afternoon, he exited without an answer.

The worst-shooting team in the ACC delivered a bunch more bricks, going 40.7 percent from the field, 25 percent from 3. During the week, in practices and team scrimmages, Notre Dame does a whole lot right. The Irish share it and move it and make the right plays. Then they get into game situations and act like they’ve never before been there. Panic overrides poise. It becomes a guessing game. Who wants to take the big shot? This guy? That guy? Like was the case last month in a last-second loss at UCLA, nobody seemed to want to take the big shot when it got tight Saturday.

“Yeah, it just comes down to game situations — the theme of the year,” said power forward John Mooney. “We’ve got to be better. Someone’s got to step up. That’s the bottom line.”

Notre Dame clawed back within one, 62-61, following a Dane Goodwin drive and dish to Mooney who dropped in a dunk. Historically, that’s been winning time for Notre Dame. There the Irish would go — off and winning.

What happens? A Prentiss Hubb 3 bounces high off the back rim and over the backboard. Hubb then can’t get a right-handed layup to go. Then one of his drives is knocked away. Then another Hubb 3 doesn’t go. A couple failed defensive possessions later, a one-point game becomes a three-point game. Then a six-point game. Then game over.

“We can’t get a good one,” Brey said. “Those were killers for us. We were a little young. You get what you deserve.”

What would a league home game be without a little side drama from the Irish? On Saturday, it was the redshirt being officially stripped from freshman power forward Chris Doherty. With the Irish down yet another man in yet another ACC game — this time, it was power forward Juwan Durham being unable to fight through a lingering ankle injury suffered New Year’s Day against No. 9 Virginia Tech — Doherty was called into action for the first time in his college career.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. Not until next year when fellow freshman Robby Carmody is healed from his December shoulder surgery and senior captain Rex Pflueger is back from reconstructive knee surgery. But Brey can no longer afford to wait for next year. Not with Mooney again giving another warrior-like effort of 19 points and 16 rebounds.

With the way the junior power forward has worked the last week, he’ll be running on fumes by February.

“He’s tired,” Brey said. “He’s really tired. We really have to be careful. He is giving us everything. It’s unbelievable.”

Mooney’s been the lone big to offer anything substantial game after ACC game. Somebody has to help, so that somebody was Doherty.

He played six scoreless minutes but grabbed three rebounds with a block and a steal and a whole lot of energy. When might Durham return? Two weeks? Three? Who really knows?

“We just can’t play this league schedule with seven guys,” Brey said. “I could care less about redshirts.”

Afterward, Brey sat hunched pver the microphones in the post-game interview room. He talked barely above a whisper, something that’s rarely ever happened in his 19 seasons. He tried to offer answers, and even kept talking after the questions stopped, but still had none. It was almost as if he didn’t want to get off the dais and go back to his office where more film study and questions about this team and this season await.

The answers aren’t coming easily. Or at all.

No. 17 NC STATE 77, NOTRE DAME 73

NC STATE (15-3): Bryce 9-14 0-0 23, Walker 2-4 0-0 4, Daniels 5-14 4-4 15, Beverly 1-9 0-0 3, Lockett 1-3 0-0 2, Funderburk 4-7 3-5 11, Hellems 2-4 0-2 4, Harris 0-1 2-2 2, Dorn 6-13 1-2 13. Totals 30-69 10-15 77.

NOTRE DAME (11-7): Mooney 7-14 5-6 19, Gibbs 2-5 7-9 13, Hubb 3-9 0-0 8, Goodwin 7-10 3-4 19, Harvey 4-12 1-3 10, Laszewski 0-4 0-0 0, Doherty 0-0 0-0 0, Djogo 1-5 2-2 4. Totals 24-59 18-24 73.

Halftime—NC State 37-35. 3-Point Goals—NC State 7-19 (Bryce 5-5, Daniels 1-5, Beverly 1-6, Dorn 0-1, Lockett 0-2), Notre Dame 7-28 (Goodwin 2-3, Gibbs 2-4, Hubb 2-4, Harvey 1-7, Djogo 0-3, Mooney 0-3, Laszewski 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—NC State 42 (Dorn 9), Notre Dame 37 (Mooney 16). Assists—NC State 15 (Beverly 4), Notre Dame 15 (Gibbs 5). Total Fouls—NC State 19, Notre Dame 18.

North Carolina State’s C.J. Bryce (13) grabs a rebound over teammate Wyatt Walker (33) and Notre Dame’s D.J. Harvey Saturday in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s John Mooney backs into the paint as North Carolina State’s DJ Funderburk defends Saturday in South Bend.