Hubb, Mooney, Gibbs score big as Notre Dame earns key road win

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — They needed this one.

Needed it in a big way.

There aren’t many must-win games so early in conference play, not in the first week of January with 17 league games to go, but Notre Dame needed an Atlantic Coast Conference win Saturday at Syracuse to keep from opening 0-3 in the ACC for the first time in school history.

Sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb and senior power forward John Mooney made sure they got one.

Hubb tied his career high of 22 points to go with nine assists in 39 minutes and Mooney added his 11th double double with another monster effort of 28 points and 14 rebounds as Notre Dame fought through some serious adversity — and a momentary lapse in judgement — for an 88-87 victory.

“We,” said Irish coach Mike Brey, “needed one bad.”

Winners at the Carrier Dome for a second straight time for the first time since 1990 and 1992, Notre Dame improved to 10-4, 1-2 in the ACC. Syracuse is 8-6, 1-2. Irish guard T.J. Gibbs added 21 points to help Notre Dame secure its first road win this season and first league road win since Feb. 2, 2019 at Boston College.

Both teams made 15 3-pointers.

“I’ve never been in a game like that,” Brey said of seeing all those 3s go in. “It’s usually one-sided.”

It wasn’t. It was both teams making big shots time and time and time again. Just when you thought one team might break free, back came the other. A five-point lead, a six-point lead, an eight-point lead meant nothing. Those were wiped out with a couple of possessions. And more 3s.

“They made big bombs; we made big ones,” Brey said. “We weren’t going to stop them. I guess we had a little bit more firepower.”

Notre Dame finished with 26 assists. That gave the Irish a chance because they kept moving it and sharing it and then, unlike earlier in the year, making shots. Making tough shots. Making big shots.

“We’re the best passing team in the country,” Brey said. “That’s how the game should be played. That is a beautiful game.”

Down 3 with 73 seconds remaining, Notre Dame tied it at 84 on an off-balance 3 from Hubb. Mooney gave the Irish an 86-84 lead with a rebound bucket with 34.8 seconds left.

Notre Dame got the defensive stop it needed before Hubb was fouled and sent to the free throw line for the first time all day with 18.1 seconds left. He made both to put the Irish up four. Hubb was 5-of-12 from the foul line this season.

The Irish entered Saturday afternoon’s game the lone remaining winless team in league play. Wake Forest got its first league win at Pittsburgh; Clemson got its first league win with a home victory over North Carolina State, which hosts Notre Dame on Wednesday.

It got heated with 5:29 left when Hubb was hit with a technical foul for standing over a fallen Joe Girard and taunting the freshman guard, who at one point considered signing with Notre Dame.

“He did deserve the ‘T’” Brey said.

“It was a stupid mistake,” Hubb said. “I had to erase it quickly. I just had to move on to the next play — my bad — and get it back for my teammates.”

Girard’s two free throws gave the Orange a one-point lead. Girard then hit a fade jumper over Hubb for a three-point lead. Girard then returned with a 3 over Hubb on the next Orange possession for a four-point ‘Cuse lead. Hubb responded with a 3 of his own to bring the Irish within one. Not to be outdone, Girard drained another 3 to push the Orange back up four. That made it 10 straight for the freshman.

“It was just another matchup,” Hubb said of the back and forth bucket-making exhibition with Girard. “It wasn’t anything personal or anything. It was just two guards going at each other.”

Hubb didn’t let that moment affect the moment.

“The one thing I do love about him is, he’s a fighter and he’s fearless and he showed that,” Brey said. “He made big shots and wanted to make big shots. He gives us kind of a fearlessness as he’s getting older and more and more mature.”

Hubb scored 17 points in the second half. After starting 2-of-10 from the floor, he made five of his final six.

“I just feel like every shot I take is going to go in,” he said.

The game featured nine ties and 12 lead changes. It was like a tennis match for much of the second half. Big shots back and forth. Notre Dame shot 47.4 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from 3 in the second half.

“That was awesome,” Mooney said. “That’s why you work, why you practice for games like that. That’s fun when the game’s that fast and you’re kind of trading buckets.”

Down by as many as five almost midway through the second half, Notre Dame ripped off eight unanswered, including 3s from Hubb and Gibbs — to go up five with 10:43 left. Hubb stretched it to eight with his third 3 of the half. That made it 64-56 with 9:57 left.

Notre Dame got going early with good ball movement and player movement and shot making against a 2-3 zone that historically has spooked the Irish. But it’s not as long or as athletic as it has been in the past, which allowed for a lot of open looks early.

The Irish capitalized, especially Gibbs, who was cooking in the early minutes. He made his first three shots — all from 3 — and added a free throw for 10 of the first 12 Irish points. Notre Dame connected on four of its first five shots from 3 and extended its lead to 20-11 following a wing 3 from Hubb.

Gibbs finished the first half with 13. Notre Dame played the final three minutes of the half without Rex Pflueger, who walked back to the locker room after having his left knee bumped by an Orange player during an Irish fast break. Pflueger didn’t start the second half, but initial word was that he’d be available. That was updated just before the start of the second half — Pflueger would not return. That left the Irish with seven available scholarship players.

That rotation slipped to six when Juwan Durham fouled out with 2:12 left.

A 21-8 Syracuse run gave the home team a six-point lead late in the first half. Part of that was helped by the Irish having to go small with Durham and Mooney both on the bench with two fouls. Flowing so well early, the Irish offense stalled.

Only this time, the stall didn’t last. Notre Dame found its footing again and again, found its way again and again and found a win. Finally.

“That was an unbelievable college game, wasn’t it?” Brey said. “I’m in a better mood because I came out on the good end of it, but I still would have said that.”

NOTRE DAME (88): Hubb 7-16 2-2 22, Gibbs 6-10 3-3 21, Mooney 11-21 5-9 28, Goodwin 2-9 1-1 5, Laszewski 2-4 0-0 6, Durham 3-6 0-0 6, Pflueger 0-3 0-0 0, Djogo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-69 11-15 88.

SYRACUSE (87): Boeheim 8-16 0-0 23, Dolezaj 6-13 1-2 13, Hughes 7-17 2-2 19, Girard 6-12 4-4 20, Sidibe 1-3 0-1 2, Guerrier 3-3 3-4 10, Washington 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-64 10-13 87.

Halftime_Syracuse 40-37. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 15-31 (Gibbs 6-8, Hubb 6-12, Laszewski 2-4, Mooney 1-2, Pflueger 0-1, Goodwin 0-4), Syracuse 15-31 (Boeheim 7-12, Girard 4-9, Hughes 3-9, Guerrier 1-1). Fouled Out_Durham. Rebounds_Notre Dame 35 (Mooney 14), Syracuse 33 (Dolezaj 10). Assists_Notre Dame 26 (Hubb 9), Syracuse 18 (Dolezaj, Hughes 5). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 11, Syracuse 13.

Notre Dame forward John Mooney (33) shoots the ball in front of Syracuse forward Bourama Sidibe (34) during Saturday’s game in Syracuse, N.Y.
Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb (3) reacts after scoring against Syracuse Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y.
Notre Dame Fighting guard TJ Gibbs (10) drives to the basket against Syracuse’s Howard Washington (10) during Saturday’s game in Syracuse, N.Y.