Noie: No shot at the end leaves Notre Dame no shot at third straight league road win

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

In the closing seconds of a league road game it once owned with a 17-point lead, Notre Dame could have used a little of everything late Saturday in midtown Atlanta.

It could have used two more made free throws over the final 71 seconds. It could have used one more timeout. It could have used a little more poise from a core of veterans that has to deliver there. It could have used someone to take and make a big shot. It certainly could have used one more of those coveted stop-score sequences.

Afterward, Irish coach Mike Brey even wondered if his team could’ve used some more athleticism to combat a common concern for this team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As in, there's not enough out it.

As for the rest, it got none of the above, only an 82-80 loss to Georgia Tech in Notre Dame's ongoing House of Horrors that is McCamish Pavilion to show for the shortcomings. Four of the five Irish losses in that arena as a member of the ACC have been by a total of seven points. Saturday was the third time they've lost by two, and again at the end.

"We lost our defensive focus there for a little bit," said junior power forward Nate Laszewski. "We played well offensively. We've got to get back to that defensive mentality."

You can go ahead and say it — this one against the Yellow Jackets stings. The Irish were up 17 at one point in the first half and shot 65.5 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes. Good teams play another solid 20 and get the win. Others let them get away in the way the Irish did.

It let the home team feel too much at home. By the time the mojo got away from the visitors, it was tough to get back.

Its modest, but a whole lot hopeful, two-game league winning streak snapped, Notre Dame slips to 7-10 overall, 4-7 in the ACC. Still undefeated at home after five league games, Georgia Tech jumps to 9-6, 5-4.

“Our defense let us down tonight,” Brey said. “We scored 80 and probably had enough on the offensive end.”

Notre Dame got that one defensive stop it needed. It couldn't get that one offensive possession it needed.

Even after a sluggish second half when the Irish were unable to take even average care of the basketball, were unable to get stops with any regularity, unable to get into anything close to the rhythm it was in while going for the half a hundo in the first half, the opportunity to win a third straight league road game for the first time since 2017 was there.

But to win a game on the road with the final possession, you have to do something Notre Dame didn’t do in the final possession — actually take a shot. Can't win if you can't score. Can't score if you don't shoot.

The end of this one in early February looked a whole lot like one in early January, only then about 380 miles up the road in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Trailing by three with 37 seconds remaining Saturday, Notre Dame had a chance to get within one point on two Cormac Ryan free throws. Ryan made the first, then missed the second. The Irish had no timeouts, but there was a plan. You could see Brey communicating it to his guys after Ryan's make and then after the miss. Don't foul. Stay steady. Be strong. Get a stop. Even with time precious, play it all out.

Notre Dame got the stop. Guard Prentiss Hubb grabbed a defensive rebound with 7.2 seconds remaining. It would’ve been nice to have a timeout, but would it? Brey burned his final one with 1:57 remaining. And that’s OK. In that situation, would you rather play against a set defense coming out of a break or force the other guys to figure it all out on the fly?

After all, your guys should have it figured it out by now. Let your basketball IQ take over and finish it out.

“We had a really good defensive sequence there with a chance to tie it and put it to overtime or win it,” Brey said. “I’d rather have that than their set defense.

“We just probably overanalyzed it a little bit.”

Gotta let it go

Hubb hustled the ball up the floor and found Ryan on the right wing. For a snap Ryan was open. In a game like this, in a league like this, a snap is all you’re going to get. It's all you should need. Instead of squaring up and shooting, Ryan pump-faked. That allowed lanky guard Michael Devoe to close out on him.

Hemmed in by Devoe and the clock about to expire, Ryan pushed the ball to Hubb, who was out on the "GT" logo near halfcourt. The horn sounded with the ball in Hubb's hands.

Oooof!

For Ryan, it was the second time he’s been in that situation — closing seconds of a conference contest on the road with a chance to decide it. Last month at North Carolina, Ryan bypassed an open look from the same side of the floor for Juwan Durham, whose baseline jumper didn’t fall in a one-point loss.

Gotta take that, Brey said afterward then of Ryan.

On Saturday, Brey said it again. Gotta take that.

“I feel for him,” Brey said. “If he had to do it all over again, I think he would’ve rose up and taken that one. I think he’s still learning to rise up and shoot it.”

Afterward Brey bemoaned his team’s lack of athleticism against an athletic, pressing team like Georgia Tech. Athleticism mattered, sure, but the Irish also seemingly forgot that Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado leads the league in steals for a reason. Athleticism didn't cost them as much as the nine second-half turnovers.

“It’s happened a bunch to us this season,” Brey said of what he termed being “out-athleted.”

The Irish seemingly had enough athleticism to score 50 points, their highest in ACC history, that first half. They had enough athleticism to lead for a staggering 35:16. If they need more, that's on Brey. That's on the coaching staff. They recruited these guys. They put this roster together. They had to have known sometime this summer — even last season — that this group might be long on basketball IQ but short on ACC athleticism.

Don’t have enough athletic, skilled guys? Make sure you recruit them. Instead, the Irish get those basketball IQ guys. Where did that IQ get them against North Carolina last month? Then again late Saturday?

Ls.

This core should be beyond these types of losses and subsequent columns. You should be reading about Laszewski erupting for 27 points. Or another solid game (18 points, seven rebounds) from Durham. Or a winning sequence involving Hubb and Ryan. You should be reading about how Notre Dame took names and numbers and another league road win with ease. How the Irish have some serious life and league swagger as the season winds down. And, oh, yeah, watch out Duke on Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Instead, it's all wasted. There's none of that, and more of the same. Back to again picking up the pieces. To recommitting to defense. To figuring it all out.

The ACC hamster wheel keeps on spinning for this group.

• GEORGIA TECH 82, NOTRE DAME 80

At McCamish Pavilion

NOTRE DAME (80): Durham 8-9 2-3 18, Laszewski 11-13 1-2 27, Goodwin 4-6 4-4 13, Hubb 6-15 1-2 15, Wertz 0-4 0-0 0, Ryan 2-5 1-2 5, Djogo 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 32-54 9-13 80.

GEORGIA TECH (82): Wright 6-14 0-0 12, Alvarado 8-13 0-0 19, Devoe 7-9 2-4 19, Parham 3-6 1-1 8, Usher 7-12 2-2 16, Moore 2-3 0-2 4, Sturdivant 2-3 0-0 4, Howard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-60 5-9 82.

Halftime_Notre Dame 50-35. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 7-18 (Laszewski 4-6, Hubb 2-6, Goodwin 1-2, Djogo 0-1, Wertz 0-1, Ryan 0-2), Georgia Tech 7-14 (Alvarado 3-4, Devoe 3-4, Parham 1-3, Sturdivant 0-1, Usher 0-2). Rebounds_Notre Dame 24 (Durham 7), Georgia Tech 25 (Wright 8). Assists_Notre Dame 20 (Hubb 10), Georgia Tech 15 (Alvarado, Parham 5). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 9, Georgia Tech 16.

Notre Dame junior power forward Nate Laszewski dunks two of his game-high 27 points in Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech.