Noie: Weird or not, Notre Dame needed to go and figure it out — and the Irish did

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Dec 22, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin (23) shoots a three point basket in the first half against the Texas A&M CC Islanders at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND — Weird usually doesn’t do it for Notre Dame. 

We’ve already seen our share of weirdness around Irish hoops this season, be it playing the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas, playing a game at Illinois as news breaks about the Notre Dame football coach and playing a league game on a Friday night for the first time since 2006. 

In each instance — in Vegas, in Champaign, Ill., and in Chestnutt Hill, Mass., — weird didn’t work for Notre Dame. The Irish lost two of three in “Maui,” lost at Illinois and opened Atlantic Coast Conference play with a loss to a Boston College team picked to finish last in the league. 

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Overdue for ordinary, Notre Dame certainly didn’t get it Wednesday in a rare mid-week matinee against Texas A&M Corpus Christi. It nearly went from weird to wrong as the Irish were pushed longer and harder than anticipated before an 83-73 victory. A season-high 16 3-pointers helped. So did a season high 21 points from Dane Goodwin. 

“It was a grind,” said senior guard/captain Cormac Ryan. “We never could get away from them. We just had to grind it out.” 

Even Irish coach Mike Brey felt off about this one. 

“That was kind of a weird day wasn’t it?” he said afterward.  

This time of year, on the back end of three games in five days, teams are all about getting something easy. Nothing about Wednesday was anywhere close. Brey shouldered that blame. He scheduled an opponent that he shouldn’t have scheduled. 

“That is absolutely the coach’s fault,” Brey said. “When you’re looking for the get-away game, which this is, you’re looking for one where you can breathe maybe a little bit.” 

Instead, Notre Dame nearly suffocated, and twice trailed by nine in the opening nine minutes. Brey also took responsibility for scheduling an afternoon game — on the heels of Monday’s win that didn’t end until close to 10 p.m. — to help the Islanders get their kids to the airport and get home for Christmas break. 

“In June when they ask you that, you go, ‘Oh, that would be great,’” Brey said. “Here it comes at us at 1. I told the staff, I apologize. That was not strategic.” 

Want more weird? Notre Dame (6-5) labored early, something that should never happen in a buy game, let alone a buy game involving an ACC team and a Southland Conference team. But there the Irish were, down 17-8 and 19-10 and as sluggish as the fans in the stands for the afternoon start. 

Heck, the Irish didn’t lead until a Goodwin 3 made it 28-26 with 5:08 left in the half. 

More weird? Goodwin pinballed around the offensive end multiple times in the first half, constantly getting banged and bodied and even popped in the face a couple times. He fell in the lane with 8:56 remaining, then was assessed a Flagrant One foul in the dust-up that followed. How? Good question. Even the officials were a little weird for this one. 

Midweek matinees are about as rare as Irish rotations that go nine and 10 deep. They just never happen, but this one did, even when it wasn’t supposed to happen. Notre Dame originally was penciled in to play a midweek game between Boston College (Dec. 3) and Kentucky (Dec. 11), but decided to against it for this one. Get a team that wasn’t supposed to be that good in a head coach’s first year, right?  

Texas A&M Corpus Christi was good. Played with swagger. Played with confidence. Played with a belief that it could win, that this was more than just a paycheck/payday game. Even when the Irish were up by as many as eight, you never got the feeling the lead would grow, and get into double digits. At one point halfway through the second half, the Islanders were shooting 81.8 percent from the field. 

They weren't going away, so the home team had to find a way.

This get-away game historically has Notre Dame more preoccupied with getting this one over with and getting home as soon as possible. A late-afternoon drive for those who live within that distance, or a rush to the airport to get a flight out. 

Dec 22, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) reacts after an assist in the second half against the Texas A&M CC Islanders at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight season, the Irish will spend Christmas on campus. Even before the current pandemic numbers soared and sports across the board were thrown into uncertainty, Brey preferred that the Irish not go home for the Holidays. So they’re here, which eliminated any distraction of wanting to get out of town. 

Now, rest is on the agenda. 

“I’m ready to chill for Christmas,” said guard Prentiss Hubb, who scored 11 points with five assists. “Three games in five days takes a toll on the body. We just gotta keep battling.” 

Notre Dame’s already thin rotation of seven took a hit about 75 minutes before tip when it was announced that senior guard Trey Wertz would be unavailable because of a sprained right ankle. No Wertz seemingly left Brey no choice but to dip deeper into his bench, because you know, everybody HAS to play and if they don’t, whoa, the natives sure do get restless. But that’s a column for another day. 

And a deeper rotation for another day. No Wertz, no worries as far as Brey was concerned. He stayed with a six-man rotation. Six ACC guys should be enough to win against however many Southland Conference guys. Just push through and play. 

Dec 22, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Texas A&M CC Islanders guard Jalen Jackson (4) dribbles as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Prentiss Hubb (3) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Why only six Wednesday? This rotation’s not game-ready enough to go past six, or seven or whatever the number. It’s been seven. Wednesday it was six. Deal with it. 

“You’d love to have another guy ready, and we’re trying to do that,” Brey said. “But none of those guys really are.” 

One of the steel six, freshman Blake Wesley, struggled to get anything to go early, hitting only one of his first eight shots. That alone is enough for anyone in their first year of college basketball to fall into a game-long funk. Wesley instead found other ways to impact the game, like ripping off a career best six assists in the first half. He finished with a game-high nine and found his way to 15 points. 

“He was really good again,” Brey said. 

Everything about this one just felt weird, but Notre Dame did what an old/experienced/home team should do — work through it. And win. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI

NOTRE DAME 83, TEXAS A&M-CC 73

TEXAS A&M-CC (10-3): Keys 1-3 0-0 2, Mushila 5-13 1-2 13, Fryer 2-7 0-0 5, Jackson 4-8 0-0 8, Tennyson 6-12 2-3 18, Murdix 3-9 6-9 12, Brinson 5-5 1-1 12, Nickelson 0-0 1-2 1, Faramade 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-58 11-17 73.

NOTRE DAME (6-5): Atkinson 5-8 4-4 14, Laszewski 2-5 2-2 8, Goodwin 7-14 2-2 21, Hubb 4-7 0-0 11, Wesley 5-14 3-4 15, Ryan 4-7 2-2 14. Totals 27-55 13-14 83.

Halftime—Notre Dame 42-37. 3-Point Goals—Texas A&M-CC 8-17 (Tennyson 4-8, Mushila 2-4, Brinson 1-1, Fryer 1-3, Murdix 0-1), Notre Dame 16-29 (Goodwin 5-7, Ryan 4-5, Hubb 3-5, Laszewski 2-5, Wesley 2-7). Rebounds—Texas A&M-CC 25 (Mushila 9), Notre Dame 28 (Ryan 7). Assists—Texas A&M-CC 14 (Jackson 5), Notre Dame 21 (Wesley 9). Total Fouls—Texas A&M-CC 20, Notre Dame 14. A—5,970 (9,149).