Noie: Didn't see that 26-point road win coming from Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Sitting baseline at Petersen Events Center near the Notre Dame bench, you often could reach out and touch all the energy and emotion involved in another back-and-forth league basketball game against Pittsburgh.

There were times when it would get so loud and loose that the media seating would bounce and shake. So would your brain.

Conference contests so often would swing on that one big moment. A drive by Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough in 2011. A 3-pointer from former Irish guard Steve Vasturia in the 2016-17 Atlantic Coast Conference opener that went to overtime. A defensive stand and a stop and all of a sudden, you hear the horn and realize the Irish had figured out how to steal another conference contest.

Notre Dame has seen and done a lot and even won in the Pete, but nothing close to all we saw Saturday.

Playing its most complete contest of the season, Notre Dame delivered one of those nobody-saw-that-coming performances at the perfect moment. Counted out earlier in the week, nobody counted on a business-like 84-58 beatdown in an eerily quiet arena.

This Irish team did that? On the road? To cap their third ACC game in seven days? To cap a second straight league road win?

Three nights after being left as losers while cobbling together its lowest point total in league play (51 by No. 20 Virginia Tech), Notre Dame (6-9; 3-6 ACC) erupted for its highest in winning for the third time in its last four league games. Three nights after looking so scattered, Notre Dame delivered a solid effort in almost every statistical department for its second league road win of the week.

League road wins are hard. The Irish made them look easy last week.

“It’s really fun,” power forward Juwan Durham said.

Go figure, right?

Notre Dame led Pittsburgh (8-5; 4-4) for the final 30:55 and by as many as 29. On the road. In league play. Yep, go figure.

“We,” said coach Mike Brey, “kind of put it all together.”

Even the Irish were a bit taken aback when they looked at the arena scoreboard over center court and saw that their lead had swelled to nearly 30. That core — Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin and Durham — never has been in a position to look up at the scoreboard and be up by so many. They’ve never won a league game as decidedly as they did Saturday.

It felt weird. It felt nice. It felt satisfying.

Wait, not quite. Rewrite.

“We’re not really satisfied with where we’re at right now,” said Goodwin, who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and two steals. “We’ve still got a lot of games to play and some key games coming up.

“It was great to get this one, but we’re looking forward.”

Saturday was the most lopsided league road win for Notre Dames since a 28-point victory at Boston College on Jan. 7, 2016. It was the most lopsided league win since it beat North Carolina State by 30 at home on Jan. 3, 2018. That was the night Brey became the winningest coach in program history. There was a lot to feel good about that night. There was a lot to feel good about Saturday, even though weather kept the Irish charter flight grounded in Western Pennsylvania until late Sunday morning.

A travel hassle doesn’t feel much like one when you win a league road game.

After staggering to those 51 total points Wednesday, Notre Dame erupted for 41 in the opening 20 minutes. The Irish got it from all angles that first half. They rode an 18-4 run to a lead that ballooned to as many as 13 points.

“We knew we needed to lock up and play our game,” Goodwin said of the first half. “As we got going on the defensive end, it really became a lot easier on the offensive end.

“We just got stops and ran.”

But it was after halftime — after the halftime talk — where they put this one away.

Notre Dame had been here before — on the road, with a lead at intermission and feeling pretty good about itself. In December, it let nearly all of a 22-point advantage get away before holding on to beat Kentucky. In January, Notre Dame was up seven halftime at Virginia Tech before being bullied into a 14-point loss.

The Irish made sure that wouldn’t happen this time. Back out to start the second half, these Irish did something they haven’t really done in a really long time. They stepped on the throat of the opposition.

The 12-point halftime lead jumped to 14. Then 17. Then 19 and ultimately, to 21 following a 9-0 burst in a little more than three minutes.

Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel burned a timeout, but this one was all but over. Notre Dame made sure of it by keeping its lead above 20 for the final 12:15.

When the Irish needed to be cruel, they were cruel. When they needed to squeeze the basketball life out of an opponent, they squeezed. Then they kept squeezing.

“We talked about that at halftime more than anything,” Brey said. “We certainly delivered.”

As bad as the Irish looked in a lot of areas earlier in the week against Virginia Tech, they were efficient and energetic and everything else Saturday. There’s still a long way to go, but bottle this effort, and who knows what the final 11 league games — and possibly a conference tournament and beyond — might have in store.

Just when you think you’ve got this team figured out and where this season’s supposedly headed, Saturday happens. The Irish established Durham early. They got stops and got out in transition. They moved the ball and they made shots and they make it all seem so easy. It all just flowed.

Four Irish scored double figures led by a season high 19 from Cormac Ryan. He didn’t play against Virginia Tech because of a sore foot, then almost didn’t miss. Ryan connected on seven of eight shots from the field. He made five of six from 3.

The seven guys that saw the majority of minutes all played as one. Nobody tried to do more than they should, or could. Everything just kind of worked. That’s how they finished with 20 assists. They guarded. That’s how they held Pittsburgh to 31.5 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from 3. They then sailed past 51 points following a Hubb 3 with 16:05 still remaining.

That’s how the pieces to the puzzle all should fit. Good balance. Good on both ends. Good all the way around. Good.

The win marked the first time this season and the first time in nearly a year that the Irish beat a team above them in the league standings. If Saturday can be any indication, it shouldn’t be the last.

The impossible may be possible for this team, for February, for this season. Roar back from a second straight 2-6 start in league play and flirt with double-digit league wins? Why not?

In a season that’s been such a struggle for so many reasons, we’ve heard the head coach and the key guys all talk about this program’s standard and how it often hasn’t been seen. On Saturday, we saw that standard.

Let’s see it some more.


At Pittsburgh

NOTRE DAME (84): Durham 7-11 0-1 14, Laszewski 3-7 1-3 7, Goodwin 6-11 3-4 16, Hubb 5-9 2-2 17, Wertz 1-4 0-0 3, Ryan 7-7 0-1 19, Djogo 3-6 1-1 8, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-1 0-0 0, Zona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-56 7-12 84.

PITTSBURGH (58): Champagnie 8-20 1-1 19, Coulibaly 3-6 0-0 6, Horton 3-6 0-0 9, Johnson 2-6 0-0 5, Toney 3-11 2-2 8, Jeffress 0-6 1-2 1, Ezeakudo 1-2 0-0 3, Sibande 1-7 0-0 2, Odukale 0-1 0-0 0, Amadasun 0-4 0-0 0, Collier 0-2 0-0 0, Drumgoole 2-2 0-0 5, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-73 4-5 58.

Halftime_Notre Dame 41-29. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 13-23 (Ryan 5-5, Hubb 5-7, Goodwin 1-2, Wertz 1-2, Djogo 1-4, Laszewski 0-3), Pittsburgh 8-26 (Horton 3-6, Champagnie 2-6, Drumgoole 1-1, Ezeakudo 1-1, Johnson 1-2, Coulibaly 0-1, Jeffress 0-2, Sibande 0-2, Toney 0-5). Fouled Out_Johnson. Rebounds_Notre Dame 35 (Laszewski, Goodwin 9), Pittsburgh 37 (Champagnie 12). Assists_Notre Dame 20 (Hubb 9), Pittsburgh 17 (Johnson, Toney, Odukale 3). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 9, Pittsburgh 15.

Notre Dame junior guard Dane Goodwin drives for a layup during Saturday’s victory over Pittsburgh at Petersen Events Center.
Notre Dame junior guard Prentiss Hubb directs traffic as he dribbles during Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh.