Noie: Now hear this - there's a reason why Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger's on the floor

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Barreling toward becoming the all-time leader for games played in Notre Dame men’s basketball program history, graduate student guard Rex Pflueger has seen and done — and heard — about everything in his college career.

Over the last five seasons, Pflueger has learned to be more of a selective listener. Especially this season, when seemingly everyone has something to say about his game. He hears it on campus. On social media. In print. On the airwaves. Everywhere and from everyone. For Notre Dame to do more, the popular narrative goes, Pflueger might need to do less.

When Pflueger was younger and playing on two good knees — the left one was reconstructed in December 2018 — outside noise might have mattered. He may have even wondered about those words himself. Should he try to do more, step outside his collective comfort zone of playing and facilitating and leading to focus more on doing more to help HIS game instead of helping the Irish?

That’s when he realizes that he can’t let what’s said on the outside get inside his head because, well, it just can’t. When a season goes sideways, as the last three have, somebody seemingly has to bear the brunt of fan frustration. Last year, it was now-senior guard T.J. Gibbs. This year, it’s Pflueger.

Don’t play Pflueger all those minutes (27.4 per game).

Stop shooting those corner 3s, Rex (.317 percent from 3 this season).

Score it more, my man (5.2 ppg.).

“I’ve built up kind of a callus in my brain,” Pflueger said Friday with his trademark sunny disposition. “I’ve heard it so many times and so much from everybody that I’m not going to let it get to me.”

Pflueger doesn’t tire of hearing about it, because, well, he’s tired of hearing it.

“There’s nothing else that can really affect me too much,” he said.

If it did, it would affect him when it’s time to make that one play that’s going to swing a game Notre Dame’s way. Like Monday, when Pflueger heard something from someone that he had to hear. Positioning himself at just the right time in just the right spot to grab an offensive rebound in the closing seconds of a game that Notre Dame trailed North Carolina by two, Pflueger’s voice in his head tempted him to put the rebound up with a fadeaway jumper to beat the horn.

How do you think that would’ve gone over?

But he heard another stronger voice bellowing from beyond the 3-point arc. It belonged to sophomore forward Nate Laszewski.


Instead of forcing that low-percentage fade, Pflueger found Laszewski with a kick out pass and the game-winning 3. Textbook rebound. Textbook assist. Textbook shot. Textbook play. It was that sequence, just like ones in seasons past against Stephen F. Austin and Syracuse and Wichita State that also involved Pflueger making the right play at the right time to decide a close game.

That’s why he’s not on the bench at winning time. Or many other times.

“It’s amazing, the plays, the winning plays, Rex Pflueger makes,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “His nose for the ball, when it’s loose, it’s amazing.”

That nose, that play, allow the Irish (16-10; 7-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) to still dream their NCAA tournament dreams heading into Sunday’s home game against Miami (Fla.). The Hurricanes (14-12; 6-10) are a complete opposite of Notre Dame. While the Irish prefer to move it and share it before shooting it, it’s common for the Hurricanes to make maybe one pass, sometimes two and seldom three before trying to break down their defenders off the dribble and getting to the basket. Anyone on their perimeter can go get a bucket and can go off for big numbers. That makes them hard to guard.

“We need to sit down and defend and make sure we limit them to one shot,” said Pflueger, still the team’s most consistent defender. “They’re playing great basketball, but we believe in ourselves and we’re playing great basketball.”

Notre Dame knows Sunday’s stakes. They’re as high as they were Monday and where they’ll be Wednesday at Boston College and then Saturday at Wake Forest. Basically, everything’s on the line the rest of the way. The NCAA tournament is a survive-and-advance deal — win and then play another day. Lose, and everything’s over. That’s basically where the Irish are with five games remaining in the regular season. Win, and keep on winning, or everything the Irish long to experience in postseason doesn’t happen.

It might not anyway, but they’ll deal with that later.

“When we go into every single game, we know we need to play it like it’s a championship game,” Pflueger said. “You’ve got to be calm, cool and collected.”

Easier said than done, but is it? Not for Pflueger, who knows too well about dealing with loss after what he’s fought through the last 14 months. The pressure to play a league game, to win a league game doesn’t compare.

“I’ve dealt with the hardest pressure of my life last year,” said Pflueger, who lost his grandmother in December 2018, lost his senior season to the knee injury later that month, then lost his mother to brain cancer in September 2019. “I don’t think there’s anything that can faze me.”

Pflueger knows when it’s time to be serious, he’ll be serious. He knows when it’s time to lock in, he’ll lock in. And when it’s time to make a key play, odds are No. 0 in blue and gold and white will be around the ball. It’s who he is. It’s who he’s always been. Doesn’t matter if it was his freshman year when he tipped one in to help Notre Dame get to the Sweet 16 or kicking one out against the league’s last-place team to keep their post-season plans (somewhat) in place.

More challenges await. Pflueger can’t wait to help the Irish try and answer them.

“I’m just loving every second, trying to enjoy it while I can,” said someone guaranteed only six more games in his college career. “Life is good, man.”

Heard that.

Notre Dame graduate student guard Rex Pflueger celebrates after Monday’s win over North Carolina, which kept alive hope that the Irish might find their way to the NCAA tournament.

WHO: Notre Dame (16-10; 7-8 ACC) vs. Miami (Fla.) (14-12; 6-10).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Sunday at 6 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: ACC Network.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at


NOTING: Freshman guard Isaiah Wong scored a career-high 27 points in Wednesday’s 102-95 triple-overtime victory at Virginia Tech. Guard Chris Lykes scored 23 and swingman Kameron McGusty, a transfer from Oklahoma, added 21. Miami had 55 rebounds and was 29-of-32 (90.6 percent) from the free throw line. It was the program’s first triple-overtime game and first involving an ACC team since Dec. 2003. It was Miami’s first road win since Dec. 31. It snapped a six-game road losing streak. … Miami carries nine healthy scholarship players. … Jim Larranaga is 659-443 in 36 seasons as a head coach. … Miami returned two starters off last year’s team that finished 14-18, 5-13 and tied for 11th in the ACC. The Hurricanes were picked this preseason to finish ninth in the league. … Miami leads the series 12-11, 5-2 as ACC colleagues, 5-5 at Purcell Pavilion. The Hurricanes have won the last two and four of the last five in the series. Notre Dame last beat Miami in South Bend on Jan. 17, 2015. … Notre Dame opened the weekend in a four-way tie for sixth place in the ACC; Miami was tied with Pittsburgh for 12th. … Miami ranks second in the league for free throw percentage (.756), 14th in rebounding margin (-4.08) and 15th – last – for scoring defense (74.6 ppg.), field goal percentage defense (.448), 3-point field goal percentage defense (.344), assists (10.2) and assist/turnover ratio (0.84). … Miami’s roster features players from eight states – only one from Florida – and three countries. … This is the second of three in a row on the road for the Hurricanes, who are 2-6 away from home in league play with wins over Clemson and Virginia Tech. … Miami has won three league games in a row. … Notre Dame has won four in a row at home, its longest home league success streak since 2016-17. … This is the first of three games in seven days for Notre Dame, which returns to the road Wednesday at Boston College.

QUOTING: “I try to not take things too seriously, but understand the severity of it.” — Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger on the importance of the final five games of the regular season.