Curtain closes quietly on Notre Dame men's hoops season

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Shooting and scoring and flowing for a second-straight night at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament was too much to ask and expect from this Notre Dame team this season.

Unable to bottle the efficient offensive effort it opened with the previous day, Notre Dame saw its season end with a 75-53 loss to Louisville in a second-round game Wednesday at Spectrum Center.

The Irish shot 26.9 percent from the floor, 11.1 percent (3-of-27) from 3.

Notre Dame (14-19) lost eight of its last nine and nine of its last 11. It never did win consecutive league games. It’s the program’s most losses since 1990-91. It’s the second time in six years there will be no post-season tournament for the Irish.

Junior guard T.J. Gibbs led the Irish with 21 points. The Cardinals led for over 35 minutes.

Just as was the case when the teams met 10 days earlier, Notre Dame got smoked in the rebounding department. The Cardinals finished with 50 rebounds, including 15 on the offensive end, on Wednesday. Earlier this month on the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville out-rebounded Notre Dame 49-30 and scored 46 points in the paint.

At one point not even halfway through the second half, Notre Dame had a five on the floor of four freshmen and a redshirt junior.

Down by as many as 16 and trailing by nine at halftime, the best Notre Dame could hope for in the second half was a repeat of last year’s second-round ACC tournament game. It was in this spot last year at Barclays Center in the New York borough of Brooklyn where Notre Dame fell behind by 21 points early in the second half against Virginia Tech. The Irish then roared back with the largest comeback in school history to advance.

Despite taking a scary fall late in the first half of Tuesday’s win over Georgia Tech, Irish freshman power forward Nate Laszewski was back in the starting lineup. With the Irish down to seven scholarship players and eight overall, it was almost as if Laszewski had to play. He’d been Notre Dame’s best player the last two games, when he averaged 18.5 points the last two games. That included a career-high 23 points in Saturday’s season finale against Pittsburgh.

Laszewski went scoreless (0-for-4) with three fouls the first 14-plus minutes. Juwan Durham started in place of him to open the second half. Laszewski missed all six of his shots and went scoreless for the first time since the Feb. 2 victory at Boston College.

The Irish bench featured four players out for the season with assorted injury.

As was the case the previous game, Mike Brey already had his suit coat off and shirt sleeves rolled up at the opening tip.

Playing with such a short bench meant a large helping of zone defense for the Irish, who opened in a 2/3 and stayed in it much of the night. The Irish had no answer early for Jordan Nwora, who scored Louisville’s first 12 points, three on 3-pointers. Nwora picked up league most improved honors earlier in the week, edging Mooney, who finished three votes behind in second.

It was Nwora 12, Notre Dame 10 at the under-16 timeout in the first half. He came into the game having shot 27 percent from 3 his last three games.

A Darius Perry drive that started from somewhere around halfcourt and ended with a dunk with nearly nobody in blue anywhere near the rim gave Louisville an early nine-point lead with just under nine minutes elapsed.

That was part of a 20-2 Louisville run. By the time the Irish finally scored with three Gibbs free throws after an 8:47 drought without a field goal, they were down 13 and had missed 13-straight shots. A Gibbs jumper the next time down was the first Irish basket in nearly 10 minutes.

Notre Dame led by as many as five and trailed by as many 16 in the first half. After scoring a season-high 52 points on Tuesday, Notre Dame made one of 20 shots in one stretch Wednesday and managed only 25 points in the opening half.

Despite all that, and despite shooting 21.2 percent from the floor, 11.8 percent from 3, the Irish were down by only nine at the break.

The No. 15 seed, Notre Dame advanced with a league tournament win for the fifth-straight season following Tuesday’s 78-71 victory over No. 10 seed Georgia Tech. The only time the Irish failed to win at least one ACC tournament game was in 2014, their first in the conference, when they lost the tournament opener to Wake Forest.

Notre Dame closed down the season having beaten only two league teams. It beat Boston College and Georgia Tech each twice.

Louisville advances to Thursday’s quarterfinals against No. 2 North Carolina.

Louisville’s Malik Williams (5) and Notre Dame’s John Mooney chase a loose ball during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday.
Louisville’s Jordan Nwora (33) shoots against Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday.