Noie: Notre Dame goes from bad to worse in home league loss

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Constants have been too few for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team as it bounces up and down and around the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Through the good times and the bad, the tough losses and the big wins, along any adversity that might surface, the Irish could count on something to be there every single season over the last six as an ACC member. It would come early in the year. It would come again late. Home or on the road.

No matter the twists or turns along the way, Notre Dame always could count on beating Boston College twice a season. Here in South Bend. Out there in the Northeast. In close games. In not-so close games. Boston College was two guaranteed league victories each season in a league where it’s hard to win. Chalk ‘em up. Check. Check.

Get to the Boston College section of the schedule, fellas, and everything usually would fall back into place.

On Saturday, it all fell apart.

Playing with absolutely zero urgency early on a day so much was necessary, and still feeling sorry for itself after a rough week on and off the basketball court, Notre Dame tumbled into too big of a hole to eventually climb out. The Irish made it interesting late, but couldn’t avoid a 73-72 loss.

It’s the first time Notre Dame has lost to Boston College as an ACC colleague after 12 consecutive wins. It’s the first time the Irish have lost to the Eagles since Feb. 4, 2004. It’s the first time the Eagles have left Purcell Pavilion with a win since Jan. 11. 1997.

It’s a new low for this Notre Dame program under coach Mike Brey. Notre Dame slipped to 6-3 overall, 0-2 in the ACC for a second straight season. Since opening league play 3-0 for the first time in school history in 2017-18, Notre Dame is a collective 8-27 in the ACC. It’s played similar to that record. Uncertain. Overmatched. Just. Not. Good.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse after a rotten week that saw one player (Chris Doherty) transfer, another player (Robby Carmody) lost for the season with a knee injury and a lopsided road loss (21 points to No. 3 Maryland), it did. Needing a big effort in league play at home, where it lost seven times in conference last season, Notre Dame didn’t get it. The Irish nearly erased a six-point deficit in the final 34.6 seconds, but that was fueled by desperation. They had no choice but to fight and fluster the opposition, who tried numerous ways to give this game away.

Notre Dame ran out of time and opportunities to take it.

“We gave ourselves a chance,” said senior power forward John Mooney.

Small consolation. No consolation.

Afterward, the Irish coach tossed the Irish coach under the blame bus. Brey said that he was too out of touch with his guys during the week to properly understand how to best help them through everything that had happened last week. The collective psyche was fragile, but the doctor was out to lunch.

So were the Irish, at least early.

“I thought we played the first half kind of feeling sorry for ourselves,” Brey said.

Same might be said for the head coach.

“I think it was my worst week as a coach here,” Brey said. “Absolutely my worst week. I told them that. I’m not sure I was plugged into the vibe enough to kind of feel that on Thursday.

“I gotta be better for ‘em.”

All stunningly true, but the players also gotta be better for the coach. Prentiss Hubb has to be better as the point guard. Rex Pflueger has to be better as the supposed steady captain. Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski and Juwan Durham, all better. Mooney? What else do you want the guy to do? He wasted another double double of 16 points and 18 rebounds.

No choice now but to own it, fellas. All of it. This team, this program, just needs to be better. Lose at home to another league team, say a ranked one? Heck, a good one? Understandable. But lose at home to THOSE guys? Unacceptable. This program was so far beyond losing at home to Boston College. Hadn’t happened since the days of the late John MacLeod. We’re in that territory now with this team, this program, this season.

That’s scary. Where does this all bottom out? How?

Saturday’s loss wrecked a nice bounce-back game from senior guard T.J. Gibbs. After going scoreless, including 0-for-11 from the field against Maryland, Gibbs delivered a game-high 22 points in 40 minutes. An .889 percent foul shooter this season, Gibbs went to the line with the Irish down two, 73-71, and 2.9 seconds remaining. He back-rimmed the first to take the air out of the building, and out of the Irish comeback chances. Gibbs never considered intentionally missing the second before making it.

“There’s not really a situation where you don’t want to take a point,” Gibbs said. “It’s just the way it rolled. Just gotta keep fighting.”

Boston College struggled to inbound the ball on made baskets, struggled to handle the Irish pressure, struggled to make free throws to give itself some more breathing room. But when the clock hit zero, there were the Eagles escaping with a critical league road win.

“The team that deserved to win won,” Brey said.

The team that didn’t? What’s next for them? That was obvious Saturday.

Another long season in the ACC. There’s no NCAA Tournament prize waiting at season’s end. Maybe only some difficult decisions. For the coach. For the players. For everyone.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse. It does.

And maybe still will.

BOSTON COLLEGE (5-5): Mitchell 2-5 2-2 7, Jai.Hamilton 2-10 0-0 4, Felder 3-10 0-0 8, Thornton 9-12 0-1 19, Heath 6-12 0-1 16, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Kraljevic 0-1 0-0 0, Rishwain 2-3 0-0 6, Jar.Hamilton 6-8 0-0 13. Totals 30-61 2-4 73.<

NOTRE DAME (6-3): Mooney 5-12 6-9 16, Durham 4-4 0-0 8, Hubb 3-11 0-1 9, Gibbs 6-11 7-8 22, Pflueger 2-7 2-2 7, Laszewski 2-3 1-1 6, Djogo 0-1 0-0 0, Goodwin 1-9 2-2 4. Totals 23-58 18-23 72.<

Halftime—Boston College 38-28. 3-Point Goals—Boston College 11-23 (Heath 4-6, Rishwain 2-3, Felder 2-6, Jar.Hamilton 1-1, Thornton 1-1, Mitchell 1-2, Jai.Hamilton 0-4), Notre Dame 8-29 (Gibbs 3-6, Hubb 3-8, Laszewski 1-1, Pflueger 1-5, Djogo 0-1, Mooney 0-2, Goodwin 0-6). Fouled Out—Jai.Hamilton. Rebounds—Boston College 31 (Mitchell 11), Notre Dame 32 (Mooney 18). Assists—Boston College 13 (Thornton 4), Notre Dame 16 (Gibbs 6). Total Fouls—Boston College 21, Notre Dame 13.

Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb (3) tries to get past Boston College’s Derryck Thornton (11) during Saturday’s game at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame’s Juwan Durham (11) blocks a shot by Boston College’s CJ Felder (0) during Saturday’s game at Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski (14) shoots against Boston College during Saturday’s game at Purcell Pavilion.