Noie: Give the ball to Prentiss Hubb, and give Notre Dame a league road win

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Dec 28, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Prentiss Hubb (3) hits the game winning shot against Pittsburgh Panthers guard Jamarius Burton (11) during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. The Irish won 68-67. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Following are NDI beat writer/columnist Tom Noie’s top three storylines/observations and other odds and ends/notes and quotes from Tuesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference contest between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, won by the Irish 68-67. 

► In Prentiss they (again) trust? 

Needing some semblance of offense in the closing seconds, Notre Dame couldn’t get much – OK, couldn’t get anything – with the shot clock winding down in a game where the Irish trailed by one, 67-66. 

No big deal. Just put the ball in the hands of senior guard/captain Prentiss Hubb and let him go find something. Find Hubb did. His baseline leaner fell with 5.6 seconds remaining to give the Irish the lead for good. 

“We tried to get a good look with the high pick and roll,” Hubb said. “It kind of broke down.” 

Broke down, but Hubb stayed solid. Stayed poised. Played like a senior guard has to play in a league road game. 

“At that point, the instincts kicked in, like, somebody has to make a play,” he said. “Shot clock was winding down too, so I just had to go make a play.” 

Hubb shot it with one second left on the shot clock. 

“I had to just go,” he said. 

Last time Notre Dame played a league road game, Hubb came off the bench for the first time this season. Now back in the starting lineup, Hubb was back to his usual swagger/stones self Tuesday with 15 points, two rebounds and two assists. More importantly, he looked to have the loudest voice in the late-game huddles. Like, come on, guys, I’ll bring us home. 

Then he did. That’s big for this group, but maybe even bigger for Hubb, who drifted through the first month-plus of the season. Notre Dame needed this one, but Hubb really needed this one. 

“He's such a winner, man,” coach Mike Brey said. “That’s the kind of stuff he’s done through his career. He just says, ‘I’m going to figure out a way to help my team win it.’ 

“It’s his team.” 

► Notre Dame delivered one final defensive stop when it needed one final defensive stop, and that was good, but it was the Irish offense awakening that won this one. 

With 8:47 remaining, Notre Dame was down eight and had scored only 43 points. It sent somebody (who will remain nameless) double-checking the previous lowest point total for Notre Dame this season (56 against Indiana). It looked like the Irish were going to struggle to get to 50. 

Notre Dame then scored 25 points over the final 8:47. A lot of that was Hubb. A lot of that too was graduate student Paul Atkinson’s ability to convert down low (one big bucket) and get to the foul line (four big free throws). 

Overlooked in that surge was freshman guard Blake Wesley, whose two free throws tied it at 55 with 5:21 remaining. But it was his two finds — of Hubb and of Dane Goodwin — for 3-pointers that really got the Irish believing. 

When Notre Dame needed it offensively, it got it. 

“When we decided to start driving and attacking their closeouts and stuff like that, instead of passing the ball around the perimeter, we were able to get good shots,” Hubb said. 

Brey joked that it took 35 minutes to finally loosen up Pittsburgh’s defense. Once the Irish did that, man, they played loose. 

“We were just kind of playing — ball screening, driving and kicking,” Brey said. “When we play like that, we’re usually able to make enough 3s. We just pulled up fearlessly.” 

► When it’s been as much of a struggle as it’s been for this program the last four years in the ACC (Notre Dame entered Tuesday with a combined league record of 28-47 since 2017-18), you’ll take a road win any way you can get. Any win, against any league team. 

Forget the fact that the Irish were up four with 3:09 left, but then down one with 34.3 seconds remaining. Forget that they were this close to losing a second league road game to a second team picked to finish near the bottom of the standings. Forget all of that. 

Notre Dame found a way to figure it out and get out of town with a road win. Moving to 7-5 overall, 1-1 in the ACC looks a lot better than the alternative of 6-6 and 0-2, doesn’t it? 

Tuesday was Notre Dame's first league road win since it beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium last February. It also marked a third straight win for Notre Dame, something that hasn’t happened for this program since February 2020. 

Take it, embrace it and go get a few more. 

Dec 28, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Prentiss Hubb (3) drives to the basket between Pittsburgh Panthers guards William Jeffress (24) and Onyebuchi Ezeakudo (31) during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s hot? 

How about Hubb? For all the grief that’s he’s taken for all the struggles he’s had this season — and it’s been a lot of grief and a lot of struggles — the guy just delivered down the stretch. No chance running any sort of set in the closing seconds there with Atkinson having fouled out. Just put the ball in the hands of No. 3 and let him go figure it out. 

As he has done a lot in seasons past, he figured it out. Hubb scored 11 of his 15 points over the final 7:24.  

Dec 28, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Nate Laszewski (14) shoots against Pittsburgh Panthers forward Noah Collier (3) during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. The Irish won 68-67. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s not? 

Senior forward/captain Nate Laszewski continues to play important minutes (26 on Tuesday) because of his ability to consistently rebound (six) and play post defense, especially when Atkinson fouls out. But he’s got to give a little more offensively. 

Laszewski finished with five points against Pittsburgh. He took only two shots from the field. Two. That’s it. With Hubb seemingly having rediscovered his game, it’s beyond time Laszewski does the same. 

Former Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough took a big step toward 2011 Big East player of the year when he led the Irish to a win in January 2011 at Pittsburgh.

History lesson 

Having covered so many memorable games between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh dating back to both schools’ membership in the Big East, and back when the Panthers called Fitzgerald Field House home, it’s hard watching the Irish and Panthers play these days. Especially at Petersen Events Center. 

The Pete once was one of the league’s, and the nation’s, toughest home courts. With the student section – the Oakland Zoo – ringing the court, it was hard to hear the person sitting next to you on press row, which once upon a time was located behind one of the baskets and near the Notre Dame bench. 

Notre Dame played some great games at the Pete, where it entered Tuesday’s game having won four of the last six. Make that five of seven. Ben Hansbrough made a big push for 2011 Big East player of the year on that court. Brey nearly got thrown out in the first half of a game (an Irish win) in 2013. Steve Vasturia hit a big shot in front of the Irish bench for an overtime win on New Year’s Eve in 2016. 

Lot of great memories in that arena, which sits in the same spot where Pitt Stadium once stood. Announced attendance Tuesday was 8,656. Not a chance. For the longest time it always was 12,508 (a sellout).

Dec 28, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Referee Bert Smith (left) shares a laugh with Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey (right) before the opening tip-off at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Worth quoting 

“I’ve got a lot of respect for our guys. It looked dim a couple times and we figured out how to come back and finish.” 

— Brey 

It's been a rough go for Virginia and coach Tony Bennett - and for the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference - as league play gets going.

Worth noting 

Coming clear of Christmas has long been an anxious time for Brey and his program. Post Christmas allowed the Irish coach to turn his attention to league play, where a gauntlet often awaited. Usually, more than one. Three straight games against ranked teams here. Four there. Three at the end. It was daunting, but it also allowed Brey to breathe a bit easier during non-league play of early November and December, knowing that Notre Dame usually could make up any NCAA tournament ground in conference play. 

That might not be the case this season with the current (sorry) state of the ACC. The league has exactly one of its 15 teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25. Duke is at No. 2. That’s it. No Florida State. No Louisville. No North Carolina. No Virginia. No Virginia Tech. The only ACC school in the “also received votes” category of the AP poll is ... drum roll ... Wake Forest. 

What’s it all mean? It means that it’s going to be really difficult for Notre Dame (7-5; 1-1) to get back to the NCAA tournament after a four-year absence without winning a whole lot of league games (think at least 12). The power that usually accompanies the Irish league schedule and playing so many ranked teams simply isn’t there this season. 

The league’s just not very good. 

By the numbers 

► 3: Number of air ball/bailout jumpers/heaves to try (unsuccessfully) and beat the shot clock in the first half by Notre Dame. 

► 6: Tuesday featured six ties and six lead changes, including two the final 1:23. 

► 7: Notre Dame’s rotation again went only seven deep. Think Brey’s going to go any deeper in a road league game, and you need to pay closer attention. Not a chance. 

► 12: With 11 points Tuesday, Goodwin has scored double figures in every game this season, the only Irish to do so. 

► 15: The Irish finished with 15 assists on Tuesday. Since a season-low five in the loss to Indiana, Notre Dame has gone for 19, 21 and 15 assists in its last three games – all wins. 

► 15:53: Amount of time Notre Dame led Tuesday. In its previous two true road games – against Illinois and Boston College – Notre Dame led for a combined 2:03. 

► 92.3: Percentage that Notre Dame shot from the free throw line (12-of-13) in the second half. That will win you a lot of close games on the road.

Maybe Notre Dame will play Duke in its home league opener Saturday at Purcell pavilion. Maybe.

Next up 

The schedule says that Notre Dame is supposed to host No. 2 Duke (11-1; 1-0) in its home league opener on Saturday night (6 p.m.). The ACC Network spent a chunk of time during Tuesday's game promoting the game. But that one officially postponed late Wednesday due to COVID protocols in the Duke program.

Duke didn’t have enough healthy bodies to play Wednesday at Clemson, so that game was postponed and the game against the Irish officially was called off.

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

►NOTRE DAME 68, PITTSBURGH 67

At Pittsburgh

NOTRE DAME (68): Atkinson 4-10 8-8 16, Laszewski 2-2 0-0 5, Goodwin 4-8 0-0 11, Hubb 4-9 4-4 15, Wesley 4-10 2-3 12, Ryan 1-6 2-2 5, Wertz 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 21-50 16-17 68.

PITTSBURGH (67): Gueye 5-12 1-2 14, Hugley 5-10 8-9 18, Burton 7-12 0-0 15, Odukale 4-10 5-7 13, Jeffress 1-6 2-4 5, Ezeakudo 0-0 0-0 0, Collier 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-51 16-22 67.

Halftime: Notre Dame 30, Pittsburgh 30. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 10-22 (Goodwin 3-4, Hubb 3-5, Wesley 2-6, Laszewski 1-1, Ryan 1-4, Atkinson 0-1, Wertz 0-1), Pittsburgh 5-14 (Gueye 3-6, Burton 1-1, Jeffress 1-6, Odukale 0-1). Fouled Out: Atkinson. Rebounds: Notre Dame 30 (Atkinson 8), Pittsburgh 25 (Hugley 6). Assists: Notre Dame 15 (Goodwin 4), Pittsburgh 12 (Gueye, Hugley, Odukale 3). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 18, Pittsburgh 16. A: 8,656 (12,508).