Home conference victory again escapes Notre Dame

Tom Noie I South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

{child_flags:featured}ANOTHER

TOUGH ONE

{child_byline}By Tom Noie I South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND — Free-falling toward rock bottom in the Atlantic Coast Conference at home against the league’s 14th-place team, Notre Dame had no choice.

Either start playing better basketball Tuesday against Wake Forest or be handed another home league loss.

Probably the most disappointing in a season full of them.

Down by nine points with 5:45 remaining, the Irish ran off nine unanswered to get back even, but couldn’t do more to figure it out and escape at Purcell Pavilion. Wake Forest did, leaving with a 75-68 win.

Rock bottom for the Irish it is.

“They hit big shots; we didn’t,” said Irish junior power forward John Mooney. “I thought our defense was pretty good down the stretch, but they shot it over us and made them.”

Notre Dame is 2-5 at home in league play.

Junior guard T.J. Gibbs led the Irish (13-13; 3-10 ACC) with a season-high 23 points. Mooney added 16. Prentiss Hubb had 11.

“Today was a little bit of a step back,” Gibbs said.

Not just one. Maybe two or three or four. The Irish lost by more points on their home floor to a team that was second to last in the league than they did three days earlier on the home floor of the nation’s No. 3 team. Go figure.

“We kind of hit the wall a little bit,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “You kind of get what you deserve.”

The second half featured three ties and nine lead changes. When it looked like the visitors would wrestle it away, the home team responded.

Starting at the 5:45 mark, down nine, the Irish five quick points, which included a Mooney 3. That made it 66-62 with 4:55 left and pumped some life into the place.

Gibbs followed with two free throws to make it seven unanswered and 66-64 with 4:10 remaining. Notre Dame then forced a turnover, got the ball back, got its bearings back with a timeout and got a free throw from Nate Laszewski to make it eight unanswered and 66-65. The run went to 9-0 following a Hubb free throw. That tied it at 66 with 2:56 left.

From then on, it was all Deacons (10-15). On the Irish floor.

“We were right there; we had our chances,” Mooney said. “Those last two minutes, they made plays. We did not. That’s the bottom line.”

Up by one at the break, Notre Dame had trouble getting any separation early in the second half from a team that came to Indiana in 14th place in the 15-team league. The Irish had some good possessions on offense, but lapsed here and there on defense. And when Sharone Wright Jr. tossed in a 3 in front of the Wake bench with 13:12 remaining, it was tied at 48.

A Wright layup then gave the Deacons serious life, and a 57-53 lead with 8:42 remaining. A Wright dunk then put Wake up six with seven minutes remaining.

Winless on the road in league play coming in, Wake Forest was coming off a 38-point home loss Saturday to No. 8 North Carolina. Everything about the Demon Deacons’ statistically said it should be a long night. Wake ranked at or near the bottom of almost every category in the conference. It’s been one big struggle for Notre Dame in league play, but even more so for Wake Forest.

Not so the first half Tuesday, when the Deacons hits shots, got stops and somehow had it tied at intermission.

Notre Dame looked to have found its long-needed formula for success late last week in a loss at Virginia. The Irish did a better job competing for 40 minutes than they did the first time around against the Cavaliers. The result was a near-upset of the nation’s No. 3 team on their home floor. The Irish also did it with defense. Digging in and getting some stops could help Notre Dame overcome its season-long shooting struggles.

Next time out Tuesday, the Irish didn’t defend all that much early. At one point midway through the first half, Wake Forest was shooting better than 71 percent from the field, and nearly 60 percent from 3. The Deacons arrived the worst shooting team from the field and from 3 in league play. They didn’t show it early.

The Irish seemed headed for their first half high for points in a league game but sputtered down the stretch. The high was 38 against Syracuse. Notre Dame went scoreless the final 3:39 and finished the first half up 36-35.

It marked the first time in five home games that the Irish took a lead back to the locker room at halftime.

Notre Dame shot 51.9 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3 in the first half. That would classify as sizzling for an Irish team that’s struggled from both areas all season.

Wake Forest hit two of its first three shots and jumped to a 5-0 lead over an Irish team that again had trouble moving with and without the ball in the opening minutes.

The Deacons missed their first shot, then hit seven in a row to grab a 19-18 lead before the first television timeout, which finally arrived at the 12:46 mark. Wake managed only 21 the entire first half of Saturday’s loss to North Carolina.

“It was a fun offensive half to see,” said Deacons coach Danny Manning.

Like Saturday, the Irish got a big early effort from Gibbs, who scored 13 of the team’s first 15. At one point, Notre Dame hit four straight shots and ran off seven unanswered points to flip what had been a five-point deficit to a three-point lead by the second media timeout.

Gibbs made his first six shots from the field and first three from 3. He finished the first half with 17 points, three shy of tying his season high for a game. No other Irish had more than seven the first 20 minutes.

As relatively entertaining as the game was early, the Notre Dame student section seemed more enamored/preoccupied with special guest Leslie David Baker, the actor who plays the fictional character Stanley Hudson from “The Office.” The student body chanted “Stanley!” whenever they had the chance while some of the older fans in the stands likely wondered, “who?”

Stanley was so popular that it was trending on Twitter with eight minutes and change remaining and the Irish down four. Next television timeout, he spent watching the “Dance Cam” on the center court videoboard.

Baker had front row seats right next to Irish football coach Brian Kelly, at least for the first half. By the second, both actor and coach were gone until midway through.

WAKE FOREST (10-15): Hoard 4-12 2-3 10, Sarr 6-8 1-3 14, Brown 3-6 2-3 8, Wright 4-7 0-0 9, Childress 5-7 5-6 20, Mucius 1-5 1-2 3, Smart 1-5 0-0 2, Johnson 2-3 4-5 9, Wynn 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-53 15-22 75.

NOTRE DAME (13-13): Mooney 5-12 4-5 16, Djogo 0-0 0-0 0, Gibbs 8-12 4-4 23, Hubb 4-10 1-2 11, Harvey 3-8 2-2 9, Laszewski 0-2 1-2 1, Durham 3-4 0-1 6, Goodwin 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 23-51 14-18 68.

Halftime_Notre Dame 36-35. 3-Point Goals_Wake Forest 8-18 (Childress 5-7, Sarr 1-2, Johnson 1-2, Wright 1-3, Brown 0-1, Mucius 0-1, Hoard 0-2), Notre Dame 8-26 (Gibbs 3-5, Mooney 2-6, Hubb 2-7, Harvey 1-5, Goodwin 0-1, Laszewski 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Wake Forest 34 (Childress 7), Notre Dame 25 (Mooney 9). Assists_Wake Forest 19 (Childress 8), Notre Dame 16 (Hubb 9). Total Fouls_Wake Forest 16, Notre Dame 19.

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ABOVE: Notre Dame’s John Mooney (33) gets pressure from Wake Forest’s Jaylen Hoard (10), Olivier Sarr (30) and Sharone Wright Jr., (2) during Tuesday’s game in South Bend, Ind.
TOP: Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb, right, looks to pass around Wake Forest’s Brandon Childress, left, during Tuesday’s game in South Bend.
Wake Forest’s Jaylen Hoard, left, looks for a shot next to Notre Dame’s John Mooney during Tuesday’s game in South Bend.