Noie: Much-needed ACC win all that matters for Notre Dame

Staff reports
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — It didn’t matter that they were tumbling toward historic lows for shooting and scoring and really everything else that goes with playing an unbelievably forgettable first half.

It didn’t matter that their collective struggles probably forced viewers to turn the channel and do something else other than watch more bad basketball. Didn’t matter that their own fans cheered loudly when they finally put together consecutive baskets just before halftime.

When a team that’s been as down and considered all but out the way Notre Dame was heading into Sunday’s home game against equally inefficient Georgia Tech, all that mattered was the final score.

Notre Dame 69, Georgia Tech 59.

“Any league win is great,” said coach Mike Brey. “I think it was the eight-minute media timeout in the first half, I told our guys, ‘We’re going to win the ugliest college basketball game in history, but it’s going to be a league win.’

“So let’s just keep playing.”

How ugly did it threaten to get? North Carolina State scored 24 points in a recent league loss to Virginia Tech. At times, Brey wondered if the Irish would even get to 24. Not for the half. For the whole game.

The Irish got going and got flowing to figure it out to score 45 points in the second half. For this team at this time, that’s big. Notre Dame (13-11; 3-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) needed this one. For its league record. For its psyche. For its fans’ morale. The Irish entered Sunday having lost three straight and four of five at Purcell Pavilion in league play. This from a program that went sustained stretches over multiple seasons undefeated in their own building.

That was a different time.

During second-half media timeouts, the Notre Dame band routinely plays one song — name that tune — on the setlist for so many seasons. They played it again Sunday. Hearing it brings back memories of seeing Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia in a huddle near the home bench plotting to win another league home game in front of a full house. Those games were big with double byes in the next month’s conference tournament on the line.

Hearing it played Sunday, when the Irish were huddling and up by three, all that mattered was finding a way to get their first home league win in a month in front of far less than a full house. Get one more league win so they might not have to play the first game on the first day next month in Charlotte.

“We just came out and played how we usually play,” Irish guard T.J. Gibbs said of the second-half burst. “It was fun to get out there and really compete. We got after it.

“This was a win that was much-needed and we’re just going to take off with it.”

A team that’s struggled to make shots all year, Notre Dame didn’t get to double figures until 5:51 remained in the first half. A Nate Laszewski 3 gave the Irish 11 points. It also snapped a streak stretching back to the first half of Wednesday’s game at Miami (Fla.) where the Irish missed 33 of 34 3-pointers.

Being that off takes some serious work.

“We were dying,” Brey said of the early offensive struggles. “We were getting pretty good looks again. It was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This is unbelievable.’”

It looked for a long time that Notre Dame would shatter its record low under Brey for points in a first half (17). Not only did the Irish offense get rolling in the final minutes of the first half, they were able to get all the way back within one (25-24) at the break after trailing by as many as nine.

Looking to bounce back from a forgetful effort against Miami (Fla.) where it scored a season-low 47 points in a 15-point loss, Notre Dame had to do it against one of the worst possible matchups not named Duke or Virginia.

Games against repeat league opponent Georgia Tech have been more ugly than easy. At home and in Atlanta, where the Irish lost last month after scoring only 61 points. That was a high point for the Yellow Jackets, who came to town losers of four in a row where they scored 53, 54, 49 and 42 points. Any game against Georgia Tech is a grind for Notre Dame, and Sunday wasn’t an exception. Especially early.

“It takes us a minute to kind of adjust to their zone,” said sophomore swingman D.J. Harvey. “Once we figure out how to attack it, it’s pretty easy to play against.

“Honestly, it’s just us.”

Usually, Brey’s agitation/intensity level can be gauged by if and when he removes his suit coat. Sometimes it’s been at the start of the second half, or late in close games. On Sunday, Brey had his coat off and shirt sleeves rolled up before the opening tip.

It was almost as if he knew what was coming, and then it played out that way. Except for the ending. That was different. Instead of it going from bad to worse like it did the last time out, it went from bad, to really bad to good and really good. Winning good. Finally.

Notre Dame’s Juwan Durham (11) goes up for a shot between Georgia Tech’s Curtis Haywood II, left, and James Banks III (1) during Sunday night’s game in South Bend.
Blood drips down the neck of Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb during a layup in the second half of Sunday night’s game against Georgia Tech in South Bend. Notre Dame won 69-59.