T.J. Gibbs gives Notre Dame another needed ACC win

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — No active player in the Atlantic Coast Conference has scored more points than Notre Dame senior guard T.J. Gibbs.

Gibbs has piled up a lot of points (1,522 and counting) and played in a lot of games (132 and counting), but the one piece missing from his four seasons was a last-second shot when the Irish absolutely had to have it.

On Wednesday at Boston College, the Irish absolutely had to have it. And Gibbs delivered.

Gibbs connected on a flip in the lane with 0.1 seconds remaining following a Prentiss Hubb shovel pass to lift Notre Dame to a 62-61 victory at Conte Forum.

"I thought he was going to shoot it," Gibbs said of Hubb. "We made eye contact. I was just at the right place at the right time. That was a key win."

Winners of three in a row and seven of nine, the Irish improved to 18-10 overall, 9-8 in the ACC. It's the first time the Irish are over the break-even mark in league play in 773 days — since early in 2018. With three regular-season games remaining, Notre Dame is tied with Syracuse for fifth place in the league.

The Irish trailed Wednesday for 33:14.

"We'll take it any way we can get it," head coach Mike Brey said. "It was one of them ugly ones. We couldn't win games like this in early January."

It was a whole lot pretty at the end for the Irish.

Irish power forward John Mooney registered his 23rd double double of the season and 43rd of his career with 22 points and 12 rebounds. A bulk of that business was done in the first half. Hubb and Nate Laszewski each added 10 points.

Trailing most of the night, and all of the second half, the Irish finally jumped into the lead, 58-57, following a corner 3 from Hubb with 3:42 remaining. The Irish advantage lasted all of 18 seconds before a Derryck Thornton jumper in the lane and it was back to a familiar ACC script for the Irish — executing game situations.

Two turnovers the final two-plus minutes and still down one pushed the Irish into a tough spot. But Gibbs got to the basket off the dribble to give the Irish a 60-59 lead with 1:16 remaining. A Gibbs miss and held ball gave possession back to Boston College with 20.3 seconds remaining.

Jay Heath gave Boston College a 61-60 lead with 8.4 seconds remaining. Brey decided not to call a timeout and let his guys play it out and figure it out. It's a team rule — if the clock is at four seconds or less, they call time out.

"If it's more than four, we're getting it in and getting down the floor," Brey said. "We came down so poised. Hubb did a great job of not shooting a crazy one right there. Gibbs had a great look. T.J. made a big play."

Notre Dame is 7-0 at Boston College as ACC colleagues. Boston College beat Notre Dame, 73-72, in the team’s first matchup in early December. That snapped a 13-game Irish win streak, including 12 in a row as ACC colleagues.

Notre Dame twice trailed Wednesday by as many as 10 in the first half and looked to go into the locker room at the break down double digits. Rex Pflueger had other ideas. The Irish had a foul to give in the closing seconds, so he gave it. Pflueger then stole the inbounds pass at midcourt and banked in a 3-pointer at the horn that fell to bring the Irish within seven, 41-34, at intermission.

"That's a new play that we run right before the half," Brey joked. "It worked. When you see something like that happen, you do think the basketball gods are with you. They were tonight."

Up to that point, the Irish guards were a combined 3-of-19 from the floor.

"That's what changed the game for us," Gibbs said of Pflueger's steal and shot."

Pflueger returned with a layup to start the second half to get the Irish back within five. The Irish crept back to within one with some good offense and some stops, but then couldn't get over that hump. They went scoreless the next 3:03 which allowed the Eagles to push back up by four. It felt more like 10.

Shots that fell for both teams early didn't in the second half. There were a lot of misses, and not a lot of points. The Irish scoring drought stretched past five minutes before a Dane Goodwin free throw cut the Eagle lead to three, 50-47, with 9:48 remaining. Notre Dame labored over six minutes without a field goal before a Mooney lay-in brought the Irish within four. At one point in the second half, the teams combined to go 4-of-25 from the field.

The Irish have allowed an average of 41.5 points their last two first halves on the road in league play. But this wasn't Duke doing what it did to Notre Dame earlier in the month. This was a Boston College team that was second to last in the league in scoring offense at 64.8 points a game. That had to be a concern.

It was a lot of Mooney and not a lot of much else for the Irish in the first half. He scored a game-high 17 points the first 20 minutes. Nobody else for Notre Dame had more than five.

Boston College came into the contest the worst shooting team in the league at .406 percent from the field. The Eagles then connected on 53.3 percent in a first half they dominated, leading for 14:41. The Irish opened in a soft 2-3 zone which allowed the home team to get way too comfortable almost from the jump.

Rather than travel back to Indiana through the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Notre Dame traveling party remained in New England after Wednesday’s game. With another league road game Saturday at Wake Forest — the last one away from home in league play this regular season — Notre Dame planned to travel to North Carolina Thursday afternoon.

Wake Forest is coming off a 113-101 double overtime victory Tuesday over No. 7 Duke.

The Irish close the regular season next week with home games against No. 6 Florida State and Virginia Tech, which scored all of 11 points in the first half of Wednesday’s home loss to Virginia.


At Chestnut Hill, Mass.

NOTRE DAME (62): Durham 2-2 1-2 5, Mooney 9-14 3-4 22, Gibbs 4-12 0-0 9, Hubb 4-14 0-0 10, Pflueger 2-5 0-0 5, Laszewski 3-6 2-2 10, Goodwin 0-4 1-2 1, Djogo 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-58 7-10 62.

BOSTON COLLEGE (61): Mitchell 4-9 1-2 12, Popovic 0-6 0-0 0, Jar.Hamilton 1-7 2-2 4, Heath 5-11 0-0 12, Thornton 5-11 1-1 12, Rishwain 3-6 0-0 9, Kraljevic 3-3 0-0 6, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Felder 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 24-59 4-5 61.

Halftime_Boston College 41-34. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 7-27 (Laszewski 2-5, Hubb 2-8, Pflueger 1-2, Mooney 1-3, Gibbs 1-5, Djogo 0-1, Goodwin 0-3), Boston College 9-30 (Mitchell 3-5, Rishwain 3-6, Heath 2-7, Thornton 1-4, Popovic 0-1, Williams 0-3, Jar.Hamilton 0-4). Rebounds_Notre Dame 32 (Mooney 12), Boston College 36 (Mitchell 11). Assists_Notre Dame 12 (Hubb 5), Boston College 15 (Mitchell 9). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 7, Boston College 9.

Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs raises his fist after his game-winning basket at the buzzer as Boston College guard Jay Heath reacts during Wednesday’s game.