Effort, execution tanks hit empty at end for Notre Dame against No. 22 Ohio State

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Maybe if everything about this night and this season were different, Notre Dame gets that much-needed, much-elusive victory over a ranked team Tuesday in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Maybe if the Irish had one more guy in the rotation to go to and give them what coach Mike Brey said afterward, a little more “oomph.” Someone who could get a defensive rebound or get a shot or just make a play. Someone who could do something to subtract some of the pressure off the starters who are expected to do and are doing everything.

Maybe if the Purcell Pavilion stands were closer to sold out than empty. If the blue seats contained a few more fans than just members of the second-ranked Irish football team (Daelin Hayes, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Kyren Williams and company) in section 10. A near sold-out house — with Brey and associate coach Rod Balanis waving their hands from the bench to get them up and get them going down the stretch — might’ve pushed a home team running on fumes over that hurdle after they built an 11-point lead with 14 minutes remaining against No. 22 Ohio State.

Maybe if graduate student power forward Juwan Durham sidestepped more foul (and fouled out) trouble when the Irish needed that additional interior presence on the defensive end. Or if junior point guard Prentiss Hubb doesn’t react like a freshman and turn it over in the closing seconds with the Irish looking for a potential game-tying 3 and trip to overtime.

Maybe ...

Close, again, but not close enough for Notre Dame (1-2), which lost for the 23rd consecutive time to a ranked team dating back to November 2017, 90-85.

“Our guys, they’re crushed,” Brey said. “Here it is, third game of the season, two good teams throwing punches at each other.”

The Buckeyes had the decisive quick jab to the jaw when required. It sent the Irish against the ropes and wobbled their feet the rest of the way.

“They made a few more physically tough plays around the rim that hurt us,” Brey said. “We were a little tired.”

Brey saw that energy tank hit empty at about the eight-minute mark of the second half. Six minutes and change after leading by 11, the Irish were tied at 62 and holding on.

“We could use one more guy to rotate through,” Brey said of going again with only seven.

Usually, in seasons past (minus the last three), 85 on the scoreboard at the end would’ve been enough for the Irish to win. Despite all those points, and as easily as the Irish corralled them for stretches on their end, they allowed them just as quickly and as effortlessly on the other.

Down by five at the break, it seemed as if the Buckeyes finally figured out the cheat code/beat code for the Irish. To have success, they were going to have to go inside. And keep going inside. When that didn’t work, don’t settle for deep outside shots. Get to the midrange. Get to their sweet spots. Get the ball near the basket and make the Irish defend.

One team did that while the other team couldn’t do that. Notre Dame allowed Ohio State a staggering 56 points in the second half. The Buckeyes finished with 28 points in the paint, but it felt more like 48. It all was way too easy.

With Durham fouled out at 8:44 left, Notre Dame had no big-man answers around the rim. Junior Nate Laszewski tried. So did freshman Matt Zona, playing in only his third college game. But the Buckeyes were too strong, too experienced, too good down the stretch. Even when the Irish were up 11 following a pair of Laszewski free throws, momentum felt like it was edging toward the visitors. Once the Buckeyes started a run, the Irish could do little to slow it.

Each team finished with 14 offensive rebounds, but the Buckeyes turned those into 18 second-chance points. The Irish had only 12. Ohio State had only four empty offensive possessions the final 8:27. They would make shots, or grab offensive rebounds and make shots. Or get fouled and make free throws (21-of-24 overall). The Irish just couldn’t defend well enough when they needed stops.

“They won the game based on offensive rebounds; we could’ve done better on that end,” Hubb said. “We stepped in front of them and kept our chest in front of them and were able to play some better defense toward the end of the game.”

Still, Notre Dame had a chance. Down three after a pair of CJ Walker free throws with 17.6 seconds remaining. Ohio State played Notre Dame for the 3, which meant pushing up and out on Hubb and Laszewski and guards Dane Goodwin and Cormac Ryan. Hubb was smothered on the left wing, and tried a degree-of-difficulty rocket pass that bounced off Laszewski’s legs and trickled out of bounds.

With it went Notre Dame’s chance at possibly sending the game into overtime and beating a ranked team for the first time since November 2017.

“They were playing the 3-point line hard,” Hubb said. “I just needed to make a better decision on that play.”

Walking off the floor, Hubb found Brey and apologized for the last-second lapse. Brey wasn’t having it.

“I mean, are you kidding me? Stop,” Brey said. “We’re not even in the game without him.”

Hubb scored a career high 26 points. He also had six assists and six rebounds to three turnovers. The last one will linger.

Moral victories aren’t what this team wants or needs this season, but after the way Notre Dame played in the opener against Michigan State — down 28 on the road and looking way more flustered than it should — Tuesday was one. Take it and grow from it.

Even in a loss, the bar was raised slightly. Brey was upbeat and encouraged afterward, even clapping his hands as he conducted his post-game radio interview. Last year, he was throwing those headphones to the floor after a near-miss against a ranked Florida State team.

The Irish aren’t there yet, but they’re closer.

“A lot of guys are counting us out,” Hubb said. “Yeah, this game was really close, but we don’t want the close games and we lose. We want to try and overcome that and win.”

Everything about what this season might be shifted some Tuesday, even if the outcome was all too familiar, and all too painful.

“I liked what I saw,” Brey said, “and who we can be.”

• OHIO STATE 90, NOTRE DAME 85

At Purcell Pavilion

OHIO STATE (90): Liddell 7-15 5-5 19, Sueing 6-10 3-4 16, Young 1-5 1-2 3, Walker 3-10 8-8 16, Washington 4-9 2-2 13, Jallow 3-5 1-1 7, Ahrens 4-6 0-0 12, Brown 0-0 1-2 1, Sotos 1-1 0-0 3, Key 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 21-24 90.

NOTRE DAME (85): Durham 3-8 1-1 7, Laszewski 5-7 5-7 17, Goodwin 7-14 0-1 16, Hubb 8-18 5-5 26, Ryan 5-8 3-4 15, Sanders 1-3 0-0 2, Zona 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-59 14-18 85.

Halftime_Notre Dame 42-34. 3-Point Goals_Ohio St. 11-23 (Ahrens 4-6, Washington 3-5, Walker 2-4, Sotos 1-1, Sueing 1-2, Jallow 0-1, Liddell 0-2, Young 0-2), Notre Dame 11-24 (Hubb 5-9, Laszewski 2-3, Goodwin 2-5, Ryan 2-5, Sanders 0-2). Fouled Out_Durham. Rebounds_Ohio St. 29 (Liddell 12), Notre Dame 33 (Durham, Laszewski 9). Assists_Ohio St. 12 (Sueing, Washington 4), Notre Dame 15 (Hubb 6). Total Fouls_Ohio St. 17, Notre Dame 19.

Notre Dame guard Dane Goodwin shoots a 3 from the corner during Tuesday’s game against No. 22 Ohio State.
Notre Dame’s Tony Sanders Jr. (12) shoots a 3-pointer over Ohio State’s Justin Ahrens (10) during the first half of Tuesday’s game in South Bend.