Noie: Notre Dame overdue to win along ACC road
Stop stumbling around and do something successful.
Nobody on the inside will say it, but that may well be the New Year’s resolution for the Notre Dame men’s basketball program when it comes to road games in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Notre Dame (9-4 overall, 0-2 ACC) gets nine more cracks at league road success over the next three months starting Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN2) at Syracuse (8-5; 1-1). Success on the road in league play once was so normal for this program. Notre Dame won at Duke. Won at North Carolina. Won at Clemson, won at Louisville and in every ACC city not named Charlottesville. It got to be contagious. Go get another road win. Then another. And another. There’s nothing like walking out of a visiting arena with a road win. It’s gold.
Since rolling up 16 league road wins over three seasons (2015-17), Notre Dame went 3-6 on the road two years ago and 1-8 last season. Both times the Irish missed the NCAA tournament. Want to break from the middle of the ACC pack in a season where average seems to be everywhere? Want to seriously chase an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2017? Want to be better than the last two years? Do something successful away from Purcell Pavilion.
Right now a league road win for Notre Dame is like a yet-to-be-finished library book or an oil change on your car or a haircut or the post-Christmas credit card bill.
“Couldn’t really do it last year,” senior power forward John Mooney said of sustaining league road success. “We’ve been close. We’ve got to go out and kind of finish it.”
Finishing one Saturday in the Carrier Dome would bring this program full circle. The last time Notre Dame won one in a place where nobody expected them to was in Central New York in January 2018. Former power forward Bonzie Colson was back on campus with a cracked bone in his foot. Former guard Matt Farrell was down with a severely sprained ankle. Minus those two, nobody gave the Irish a chance. Nobody.
In a contest that set the run and shoot and score league back decades — it was that ugly an afternoon — Notre Dame escaped with a 51-49 victory following a buzzer-beating tip from guard Rex Pflueger. The win moved Notre Dame to 3-0 in ACC play for the first time in school history. On the heels of becoming the program’s all-time winningest coach the previous game, Mike Brey figured he’d celebrate the road win with a glass of wine when the team charter touched down in Indiana that night.
Everyone around the program felt that way. Life in the ACC was good.
“We remember it,” Mooney said of that game. “Very good feeling. Some of the older guys kind of have that feeling in us.”
That feeling and this program have never been the same. Since that win at Syracuse, Notre Dame is a collective 8-27 in the ACC, 3-15 on the road. That day, that tip, that league record all seem like another lifetime ago for a program that had won so much away from home in 2015 and 2016 and 2017.
Even during their days in the Big East, the Irish were the self-proclaimed “road dawgs.” Those days are gone.
“That does seem like a long time ago,” Brey said of that last visit to the Carrier Dome. “We could use one to ignite us a little bit, something on the road. Right now, we’d take one any way we can get it, man.
“We need one.”
Need it badly. For morale. For the perception of the program. For the reality that is this — good teams win league road games. One isn’t going to cure all that ails this team. Flaws that likely will slide to the surface the deeper the Irish work their way through league play remain. Roster flaws. Talent flaws. Consistency flaws. Experience flaws. Maybe some confidence issues. It’s going to be a tough climb to get above and stay above the break-even mark in league play with four of the next six away from home.
A league road win could work wonders for this team’s confidence. The Irish need something they can point to other than another home win against a bad team. They piled up plenty of those in non-league play. Against the elite, they haven’t been anywhere close (UCLA doesn’t count).
Notre Dame has played three games away from home this season — at North Carolina, at Maryland and in Indianapolis against Indiana, which really was a road game. The Irish averages in those three losses are below average — 32.5 percent shooting from the field, 26.4 percent shooting from 3, 58.6 points per game. Those numbers aren’t going to win many games home or away or on the moon. The Irish trailed by double digits in each, sometimes lopsidedly so.
Brey insists that Notre Dame had chances to win the Carolina and Indiana games, but it didn’t for one reason or another. The main one? The Irish just weren’t good enough when they needed to be. Maybe that changes Saturday and beyond. Maybe the Irish just keep meandering around being just another average outfit.
One win — away from home at a place that many don’t give the Irish much of a chance — would do wonders in helping this team rediscover its collective swagger. Yeah, the Irish have been good at home, but every team should be good at home. Good teams — really good teams — are good on the road.
“Saturday’s pivotal,” Pflueger said. “We have a clean slate, new year, new decade. We’re going to learn from everything we’ve done and try to put it all together.”
That means getting stops and getting some easy looks in transition so as not to play against the 2-3 Orange zone, which always seems to spook shooters. That means making more than a few shots over the top of said zone. That means finding an offensive flow for 40 minutes and not fading in and out like what happened against North Carolina and Indiana. That means getting out to the Orange shooters. That means doing the tough stuff. That means being there ready to close it out at the end.
That also means doing something that would be massive for this group at this time.
WHO: Notre Dame (9-4; 0-2 ACC) vs. Syracuse (8-5; 1-1).
WHERE: Carrier Dome (35,642), Syracuse, N.Y.
WHEN: Saturday at 4 p.m.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI
NOTING: Syracuse has been idle since a 71-57 home victory over Niagara on Dec. 28. Forward Elijah Hughes scored 19 points as the Orange shot .444 percent from the field, .360 from 3 and .778 from the foul line. Syracuse finished with a 46-33 rebounding advantage and 16 turnovers. … This is the fourth of five straight home games for the Orange. … Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim (954-390) is in his 45th season at his alma mater. … Syracuse returns one starter off last year’s team that finished 20-14, 10-8 and tied for sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. … Syracuse was picked this preseason to finish eighth in the league; Notre Dame was picked seventh. … Syracuse is one of six repeat league opponents for Notre Dame. The teams meet Jan. 22 at Purcell Pavilion. … Syracuse leads the all-time series 29-21, 14-10 at the Carrier Dome, 4-2 as ACC colleagues. Notre Dame’s win at Syracuse on Jan. 6, 2018 snapped a five-game Carrier Dome losing streak. … Syracuse has won five of the last seven in the series. … The Orange roster has zero scholarship seniors. … Hughes ranks second in the league in scoring (19.8 ppg.) and first in minutes (37.3). … Notre Dame and Syracuse are first (18.2) and second (17.4) in the league for assists and first (1.90) and third (1.42) in assist/turnover ratio. … Syracuse lost to Virginia in the season opener before beating Boston College in league play. … With losses to North Carolina and Boston College, Notre Dame looks to avoid starting 0-3 in the ACC for the first time in school history. ... Notre Dame has won three of its last six. … This starts a league stretch of two in a row and four of six away from home for Notre Dame, where it went 1-8 in league play last season.
QUOTING: “We haven’t been at our best on the road. That just comes with time. What a way to start on Saturday.”
•Notre Dame senior power forward John Mooney on chasing road success in the ACC.