Notre Dame makes it three in a row at home

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — One-game win streaks for Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference are considered gold.

Two in a row? Twice as nice for an Irish outfit that went nearly two seasons between such success.

And three straight? Downright dominant for a program that used to do that with regularity. They did it again Wednesday.

John Mooney registered his 18th double double for points (17) and rebounds (10) as Notre Dame extended its season-high league win streak to three with an 80-72 victory over Pittsburgh at Purcell Pavilion. T.J. Gibbs had a game-high 21 while sophomore Nate Laszewski added 11.

“As long as there’s 80 on the board, it’s a good night,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We’re really poised and confident offensively that they probably couldn’t stay with us.”

They couldn’t. Just as the Irish did in previous wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, they hit another gear on the offensive end. On Wednesday, it was getting four guys into double figures and a fifth to nine. That’s a lot of guys to account for on the scouting report. Pittsburgh couldn’t keep track of everyone.

Notre Dame led by as many as 19 to improve to 14-8 — the same number of wins it had all of last season. The Irish also are two wins better in league play (5-6) than last year. Pittsburgh is 14-9, 5-7.

It’s the first time Notre Dame has won three in a row in league play since starting conference 3-0 during the 2017-18 season. Prior to the three-game home swing, Notre Dame had been winless at Purcell Pavilion. But the Irish flipped 0-3 to 3-3 in eight short days.

They did by scoring at least 80 points in each of their last five games. That’s the first time the Irish have done that in ACC play and the first time in league play since way back in 2007-08 as a member of the Big East.

Why now?

“I don’t want to say too much; I don’t want to jinx us,” said Gibbs, only half joking. “We’ve found something. We’re working. We start on the defensive end.”

Notre Dame trailed for only 6:01 and never by more than six.

A Mooney flip shot from the baseline to start the second half gave the Irish their first double-digit lead, 44-33. Notre Dame also led by 10 a few minutes later, but separation was hard to secure. The Panthers ran off five straight to cut the deficit in half before a Mooney 3. A couple possessions later, the lead was back at five.

Then just like that, the lead ballooned to 14 with under 14 to play. Just like the good, old conference days for the Irish.

Notre Dame led by as many as seven and trailed by many as six before taking a 42-33 lead at intermission thanks to a Hubb transition 3 to beat the halftime horn. Hubb played most of the first half in a scoreless fog before connecting on a pair of 3s the final 69 seconds to give him six points. That basically matched his ACC home scoring average — 6.6 points per game.

“We know he’s going to hit shots,” Gibbs said of Hubb, who finished with nine points. “We needed it right there at the end of the half. When he was able to do that, we went into halftime with a little deep breath. Like, we’ve got this.”

A 12-0 run pushed Pittsburgh up six midway through the first half. Gibbs snapped a scoreless run that reached four minutes with a wing 3 to make it 19-16. It was hard for the Irish early to get many good looks, something that wasn’t issue the last four games when everything flowed.

The Gibbs bucket kick-started a 9-0 run that allowed the Irish to jump back into a 22-19 lead.

“Each game is going to be tough in the ACC,” Gibbs said. “We know that.”

The early tip time inside and return to winter weather outside made for a rather thin crowd when the game started. It felt more like a November or December non-league laugher than an ACC game, but when television says to start at a certain time, you start at a certain time.

The odd start time didn’t seem to bother Notre Dame. The Irish made four of their first five shots and jumped to a seven-point lead less than four minutes in following a Gibbs 3-pointer. The hot shooting didn’t last as the Irish made only one of their next six and were seemingly flustered by Pittsburgh’s turning up of its defensive intensity. That forced the Irish to score only two points between the first and second media timeouts and go nearly four minutes without a basket. The Irish had four turnovers in that stretch.

Coming back from the first media timeout at 15:46, Brey already had downshifted to the smaller lineup that features four perimeter players around one big (Mooney). That’s helped the Irish average 84 points over their previous four games

“They’re a really, really good offensive team,” Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel said of the Irish. “When they go with that (small) lineup, they’re a little more difficult to defend.”

Wednesday wrapped a three-game homestand for the Irish, who now face their most challenging stretch this season. Sunday’s game at Clemson starts a run of three straight league road games and four conference contests over nine days.

Notre Dame’s next home game doesn’t roll back around until Feb. 17 against North Carolina.

“I think we’re turning the corner now,” Gibbs said.


At Purcell Pavilion

PITTSBURGH (72): Hamilton 2-3 0-0 4, Johnson 5-9 5-8 17, McGowens 5-9 3-4 15, Champagnie 8-20 2-2 20, Toney 3-9 2-2 9, Brown 2-6 0-0 4, Drumgoole 1-3 0-0 3, Coulibaly 0-2 0-0 0, Ezeakudo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-62 12-16 72.

NOTRE DAME (80): Durham 5-5 1-2 11, Mooney 8-18 0-0 17, Gibbs 8-13 0-0 21, Hubb 3-9 1-1 9, Pflueger 1-5 0-0 3, Goodwin 2-10 2-2 6, Laszewski 3-5 4-5 11, Djogo 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 30-65 10-12 80.

Halftime_Notre Dame 42-33. 3-Point Goals_Pittsburgh 8-19 (Johnson 2-3, McGowens 2-4, Champagnie 2-5, Drumgoole 1-2, Toney 1-5), Notre Dame 10-27 (Gibbs 5-8, Hubb 2-7, Laszewski 1-2, Mooney 1-3, Pflueger 1-4, Goodwin 0-3). Rebounds_Pittsburgh 32 (Champagnie 11), Notre Dame 34 (Mooney 10). Assists_Pittsburgh 13 (McGowens 5), Notre Dame 19 (Hubb 7). Total Fouls_Pittsburgh 12, Notre Dame 13.

Notre Dame’s John Mooney gets called for a charging violation as he goes up for a shot over Pittsburgh’s Xavier Johnson Wednesday in South Bend, Ind.