Noie: Searching for silver linings in another Notre Dame hoops setback

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

{child_flags:featured}SILVER LINING SEARCH

{child_byline}By Tom Noie

South Bend Tribune{/child_byline}

SOUTH BEND

Find the positives.

That was the goal here in this space heading into what was another long afternoon for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team Saturday at home against No. 20 Virginia Tech.

Enough dissecting the shots the Irish couldn’t make, or the points they couldn’t score, or their inability/inexperience/immaturity to win another close Atlantic Coast Conference contest, which ended in a 67-59 loss.

All of that has been hashed and rehashed, cycled and recycled too many times over the last few weeks. The Irish have had trouble shooting. Have had trouble scoring. Have had trouble winning. Have lost to ranked teams. All that continued Saturday. But what might Notre Dame (13-14; 3-11) take from this one that could help Monday at No. 16 Florida State? Or the following week at No. 18 Louisville?

Something? Anything?

How about freshman guard Prentiss Hubb? He delivered a game-high seven assists to give him 104 for the season. He’s the eighth Irish since 1972-73 and fifth in the Brey era (Chris Thomas, Martin Ingelsby, Tory Jackson, Eric Atkins) to register triple-digit assists as a rookie. Hubb continues to struggle with his shot making and shot taking — who in the home whites hasn’t? — yet he’s done a whole lot more. Hubb played nearly 37 minutes and had one turnover.

“The guy’s been unbelievable for us,” Brey said. “It’s hard to take him out. He battles and he fights and he’s not afraid. I’m really pleased with where he has been.”

Hubb takes care of the ball and also delivers it, pretty much since he stepped into the starting lineup four games in. Yet for everything this team hasn’t done, what No. 3 has often goes unnoticed. Or ignored. Or dismissed. Like, if the kid can’t shoot, and there are times when he can’t, he’s not effective.

“We can’t ask much more out of Prentiss Hubb,” Brey said.

Outside of junior power forward John Mooney, who notched his 17th double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, Hubb’s the most consistent Irish in a season of inconsistency. If not for the Irish league record and a certain group of guys from Duke, he’d make a run at the all-freshman league squad.

Saturday was a step for fellow freshman Nate Laszewski. Brey said earlier in the week that he was going to take an even longer look at Laszewski and fellow freshman Dane Goodwin. There were times Saturday when the Irish had all three freshmen on the floor at the same time. That against a veteran group of Hokies that include Kerry Blackshear (22 points, 14 rebounds) and Ahmed Hill (eight points, four rebounds, one monster two-hand dunk) who seemingly has been around for as long as opposing fans figured Luke Harangody was at Notre Dame.

Laszewski settled down and hit a few shots (12 points on 4-of-9 from the floor). Most impressive was that he played fearless enough to hold his own on post defense against the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Blackshear. That’s a tough task, one the 6-10, 200-pound Laszewski likely wouldn’t have accepted earlier in league play. It’s one he embraced as best he could on Saturday.

“That’s the best post defense he’s played this year,” Brey said. “And he played it against a man.”

Young guys aside, Saturday was another (somewhat) solid showing by junior guard T.J. Gibbs. He’s still struggling to make shots (5-of-17 from the field), but he found his way to 18 points. Since getting a meaningless basket in the closing seconds of the Feb. 6 loss at Miami (Fla.) for his only two points, Gibbs has averaged 19.5 points over his last four. It hasn’t translated to much success, but a guy who had to be better has been.

“Just playing within myself, not getting down on missing shots,” Gibbs said. “Just trying to constantly be in a flow. If one shot doesn’t fall, the next one will.”

Hoping to play at a quicker tempo Saturday, Notre Dame practiced the previous two days with a 20-second shot clock — 10 off the norm. Brey wanted his guys to get up the floor and get shots up without worrying about getting shots up. Just run and shoot and play. Don’t think so darn much.

“Let’s just go,” he said.

In theory, that sounded swell until watching Notre Dame’s first 10 possessions. The shot clock crept under 10 seconds on five of those. The Irish turned it over on a sixth and made just one of their first nine shots. Forget free flow. This one became a grind, one the Hokies won because they’re just better.

“They’ve just got too many men,’ too old,” Brey said. “Too tough. Too mentally tough. And we are not that right now.”

A plethora of positives there weren’t as Notre Dame lost for the sixth time in eight league home games. But with February winding down in a season that will see the Irish likely play out the string then shut it all down early next month, it’s the best they can do.

Saturday’s top positive? Four regular-season games remain. It’s been a long year. For myriad reasons. One only a long spring and summer and fall can help heal.

VIRGINIA TECH (21-6): Blackshear 7-12 7-10 22, Alexander-Walker 2-8 7-7 12, Bede 2-7 2-2 6, Hill 3-12 1-2 8, Outlaw 2-6 4-6 9, Horne 1-3 0-0 2, Wilkins 2-3 3-4 8, Kabongo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 24-31 67.<

NOTRE DAME (13-14): Mooney 5-10 2-2 12, Djogo 0-2 0-0 0, Gibbs 5-17 5-6 18, Hubb 1-8 0-0 2, Harvey 3-9 0-0 7, Laszewski 4-9 2-2 12, Durham 1-1 4-4 6, Goodwin 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 19-58 15-16 59.<

Halftime—Virginia Tech 30-23. 3-Point Goals—Virginia Tech 5-18 (Wilkins 1-1, Blackshear 1-2, Alexander-Walker 1-3, Outlaw 1-4, Hill 1-4, Kabongo 0-1, Bede 0-3), Notre Dame 6-26 (Gibbs 3-10, Laszewski 2-6, Harvey 1-3, Djogo 0-1, Mooney 0-1, Hubb 0-5). Fouled Out—Harvey. Rebounds—Virginia Tech 45 (Blackshear 14), Notre Dame 26 (Mooney 10). Assists—Virginia Tech 8 (Bede, Blackshear 3), Notre Dame 9 (Hubb 7). Total Fouls—Virginia Tech 18, Notre Dame 25. A—8,784 (9,149).

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Virginia Tech’s Jonathan Kabongo, left, grabs the ball as Notre Dame’s John Mooney, right, attempts a shot under the basket Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame’s Dane Goodwin, left, looks to pass around Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill, right, Saturday in South Bend.