Noie: Practice makes perfect as Notre Dame men earn first ACC win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — For the first time since March 7, 2020, Notre Dame won an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season game Saturday on its home floor of Purcell Pavilion.

Really, though, this one was won next door on the practice floor of Rolfs Hall.

An 80-70 victory over Boston College allowed Notre Dame (4-8; 1-5) to snap a four-game losing streak. The Irish tallied a season high for points in an ACC game, had five score double figures and looked little like the group that labored through a pair of double-digit road losses to ranked teams earing in the week.

That’s because they shut the doors of their practice facility the previous two days, where they shut out the growing discontent of being winless in league play and just got after one another from a competitive standpoint. Roll the ball out and go to work. They played one-on-one. They played two-on-two. They went five-on-five. All with the goal that the effort and the energy and the intensity would translate to Purcell Pavilion come Saturday afternoon.

Translate it did.

“We just went after each other,” said junior guard Dane Goodwin. “We needed that. We needed to get down and dirty and get into guys and get those juices flowing. That competitive nature that we all have just hasn’t shown up at certain times (or at all). We needed to come out strong today. We needed to come out aggressive. I think we did that.”

On both ends. The Irish allowed their defense to ignite their offense. They were able to get out in the open floor and not play against a set defense because they got a few stops. They were able to keep the Boston College defense on its collective heels because they weren’t wasting time taking the ball out of the net after every defensive possession. They did the tough stuff.

“That helped us,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “We got a little bit in transition. We threw ahead. We weren’t walking it up the court.”

For as much as this team has struggled in ACC play, Saturday looked a lot like turn-back-the clock day. The Irish didn’t wear retro uniforms, though it’s long overdue to bring back their mustard golds. They didn’t play on the old 1970s-court gathering dust beneath the current one. But these Irish looked a lot like previous Irish. Even right down to those get-back-to-toughness workouts, which helped this program rebound from 15-17 in 2013-14 to go 32-6 in 2014-15.

Anytime you can score 80 points, it’s a good day. Anytime your point guard (Prentiss Hubb) can get 10 assists and your graduate student power forward (Juwan Durham) can fight through a balky back to go for a double double with 12 points and 11 rebounds and your shooting guard (Goodwin) can sidestep foul trouble to figure a way to a team-high 21 points, it’s a good day. Anytime you can tally 17 assists before the first turnover, which didn’t come until 29 minutes in, it’s a good day.

And anytime you can go back to the locker room and celebrate a league win instead of again picking up the pieces after a loss, well, that’s what made it the best day of all.

“God knows, we needed it,” Brey said. “We needed to compete more. We needed to stick our noses in there more.”

Brey said his team too often hung their collective heads in what he termed the “Virginia Bataan Death March” — losses to No. 20 Virginia Tech and No. 18 Virginia. So what was tougher — Saturday’s game or the previous two days of practice?

“You can’t ever overlook an opponent, so I’m going to say the game,” Durham said. “But we really got after it in practice. It was good for us. Without days like that, we’re going to continue to have bad days. I’m all for it.”

Coming into the game, the Irish were suffering through serious confidence issues. Like, they didn’t have much of it. Maybe even a compete issue. Again, not enough of it. None of that was evident Saturday as Notre Dame controlled everything, almost from start to finish. The home team led for nearly 37 out of a possible 40 minutes. This one was a long time coming. It was finally good to see it happen. From everyone.

There were times when Brey barked out a defensive set from the bench — get back in man, or play some 2-3. Even some 1-3-1. But the Irish worked the entire afternoon without the coach calling one offensive set. Not a single-double for Goodwin or Cormac Ryan or anyone else on the Irish perimeter. Not wheel or circle or any other verbiage that’s in the offensive playbook.

Saturday wasn’t about scripted sets. It was about getting five guys on the floor and just moving. Flowing. Don’t overthink anything — the losing streak, the need for a win, the fact that Boston College won for the first time in seemingly forever the last time in Purcell Pavilion. Set all of it aside and cut it loose.

“We played basketball on the offensive end,” Brey said. “It’s kind of neat to see guys trust and know how to play.”

The good news Saturday was that Notre Dame won a game for the first time since Dec. 23. The bad news is that it might seem that long until the Irish can play again. Nothing has come easily in this pandemic season, and that includes games. Earlier in the day, Notre Dame learned that it wouldn’t travel to Washington for the long-anticipated Martin Luther King Jr Day game against Howard. Coronavirus issues have kept the Howard program shuttered since Jan. 8.

Notre Dame tried to make a league game work, but could be staring at another extended break. Brey wondered aloud if Bethel University might be available for an exhibition this week. He figured someone on his staff would go back to a boatload of potential game requests via text or email after Saturday ended. The Irish may have a few options waiting. Whether or not it works out, well, we’ll see.

Play the way the Irish did Saturday, and you can’t wait to get back on the floor. But wait the Irish will have to do. Maybe for a couple days. Maybe longer. The break will be a little easier knowing that they still have something like they showed Saturday in them. Get a few more like those and everything around the program won’t seem so dark and dreary.

Saturday was different because the Irish were different.

“We were just playing,” Goodwin said. “We just went out there and went for it today. Moving forward, that’s a recipe for us.”

Time to cook.


At Purcell Pavilion

Late Saturday

BOSTON COLLEGE (70): Felder 4-7 1-2 10, Mitchell 5-7 4-5 16, Heath 6-12 1-1 14, Kelly 2-9 0-0 5, Langford 2-8 2-2 6, Tabbs 5-11 1-2 14, Karnik 1-4 0-0 2, Williams 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 26-60 9-12 70.

NOTRE DAME (80): Durham 6-9 0-0 12, Laszewski 7-10 0-4 16, Goodwin 8-14 0-2 21, Hubb 5-12 0-0 13, Wertz 1-6 2-2 5, Ryan 3-11 2-2 10, Djogo 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 31-65 4-10 80.

Halftime_Notre Dame 42-32. 3-Point Goals_Boston College 9-29 (Tabbs 3-9, Mitchell 2-3, Williams 1-2, Felder 1-4, Kelly 1-4, Heath 1-5, Langford 0-2), Notre Dame 14-31 (Goodwin 5-9, Hubb 3-7, Laszewski 2-3, Ryan 2-5, Djogo 1-2, Wertz 1-5). Rebounds_Boston College 34 (Mitchell 13), Notre Dame 37 (Durham 11). Assists_Boston College 12 (Langford, Tabbs 3), Notre Dame 21 (Hubb 10). Total Fouls_Boston College 8, Notre Dame 12.

Notre Dame power forward Juwan Durham grabs one of his team-high 11 rebounds in Saturday’s victory over Boston College.