Men's Basketball: Irish extend ACC win streak to four with comfortable win over Clemson
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame's students were back, energy inside Purcell Pavilion was pulsing and the Notre Dame men's basketball fed off both from the start of Wednesday night's home game against Clemson.
The Irish made their first six shots and seldom trailed in a 72-56 win. By night's end, Notre Dame was alone in second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 4-1 following a fourth-straight league win.
Senior guard Dane Goodwin got the Irish started, scoring 15 of his 21 points in the first half, and freshman Blake Wesley came alive after the break, scoring 16 of his 20 in the second half.
Notre Dame (10-5) never trailed after Clemson led 2-0, extending its lead to as high as 23 points in the second half after a Wesley 3-pointer to put the Irish up 64-41.
"I was really worried about them making threes, because they are third in the country in three-point percentage, and I think holding them to 6-for-32 was really the key, because they really need that three-point line," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I thought we were methodical offensively and it was a heck of a night for us to get to 4-1 in this league."
The Tigers never got the deficit back to single digits after the break. PJ Hall led Clemson with 14 points, while Hunter Tyson chipped in 12.
► ACC winning streak
When the Irish opened conference play earlier this season with a blowout loss at Boston College, the thought of a four-game winning streak during ACC play was the furthest thing from anybody's mind. Well, here we are.
Notre Dame has rattled off wins against Pittsburgh, North Carolina, common nemesis Georgia Tech and Clemson to move to 4-1 in league play. Perhaps Notre Dame's streak got some help from a COVID-related issues postponing the Duke game, now set to play on Jan. 31, but the Irish have already beaten two perennial blue bloods in South Bend this season (the Tar Heels and non-league Kentucky)— so who knows.
"We clearly got some momentum right now," Goodwin said. "We played well together, and I think we especially played well together on the defensive end. Really shut them down and took them out of rhythm a little bit and got some open looks out of it. I think it is a mix of a lot of things, the main thing we are playing really well together."
The Irish are set up for a stretch of meaningful January games in the meat of their league schedule, beginning with Saturday's road game at Virginia Tech, another traditionally tough place to win. Then, after a one-day break, it's off to Howard University in Washington on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, before returning to league play at Louisville, which is 4-2 in the ACC, on Jan. 22.
► Staying on the NCAA Tournament radar
A win over a Clemson team that is 10-6 overall, likely won't tip the needle for an Irish team that has put themselves back on the radar for a potential NCAA Tournament bid.
Losing this game at home would have hurt those chances. The Irish got the job done in front of the Purcell Pavilion crowd for the eighth consecutive game dating back to last season.
"We know they are big games," Goodwin said. "We know every ACC game is an important one, especially good teams like Clemson and Virginia Tech, who are also in that conversation as well. Coming out and winning these games are going to help us later in March."
► Speaking of the crowd
The week started with Brey standing on campus dining hall tables, imploring students to show up and support the team. They got the message, and were as loud as any home game this season.
"Our crowd was fabulous," Brey said. "And don’t worry, I am going to jump from table-to-table in the dining hall before every home game moving forward, because our student section, as soon as I came out and saw that. It just gives our guys energy."
► Quiet night from Blake Wesley
Notre Dame's freshman standout finished Wednesday's game with 20 points. But it was his first half that was notable for its rather quiet output. Wesley entered the break with just four points, one made field goal (1 of 4 from the field) and 0 for 3 from behind the arc.
On most nights, that could spell trouble for a Notre Dame team that relies on Wesley to carry an offensive load.
But on Wednesday, contributions came from all over. Along with Goodwin's big night, fellow senior Nate Laszewski added eight points, five of which came in the first five minutes. Paul Atkinson Jr. also responded from Saturday's benching at Georgia Tech, returning to the starting lineup and finishing with seven points.
► Goodwin's double-digit scoring streak
In 15 games this season, Goodwin has scored in double figures. The senior guard finished Wednesday with 21, with most of that damage (15 points) coming in the first half.
Goodwin was 5-for-7 from the floor through 20 minutes, finished 8-for-10, and was especially lethal from behind the arc. His first two 3s were part of Notre Dame's 6 for 6 start from the field, putting the Irish up 7-4 and 15-6. He hit another with under six minutes left in the half to extend the lead to 30-16, which put the Purcell Pavilion crowd on its feet.
► Clemson's shooting percentage
The Tigers struggled to do anything consistently on offensively in the first half, outside of missing shots. Clemson went into the break trailing, 39-22 having shot just 8-for-31 (26%) from the field . It also went the entire first half without recording made baskets on back-to-back offensive possessions.
That shooting effort was rather shocking from a team that entered the game third in college basketball in 3-point shooting percentage (40.9%), and Notre Dame was almost daring the Tigers to fire away, using a zone defense. They couldn't capitalize, finishing the half 2-for-16 (13%).
"We needed to dictate what they wanted to do," Goodwin said. "We didn’t want them running their actions and get the looks they wanted to. We knew if we did that it was really going to set us up."
In all, the Tigers shot 35% (21-for-60) for the game, and finished 6-for-31 from 3-point range.
Along with his five points, Prentiss Hubb dished out three assists, putting him at 499 for his career.
In conference play, Notre Dame's senior guard has recorded 22 assists, which leads the team and puts him in the top 10 of the ACC in that department.
► Update on Elijah Taylor
The sophomore power forward is unavailable for the remainder of the season because he "has some work to do academically," said Brey.
On Wednesday, Taylor noted over his Twitter that he was stepping away from the team, stating, "Unforeseen circumstances have left me unable to perform my responsibilities as a student-athlete he at Notre Dame.
Taylor has appeared in three games this season, most recently in the loss at Illinois. He still can practice with the team.
A quick turnaround and an extended road trip as the Irish travel Saturday to Blacksburg, Va. to play reeling Virginia Tech team (8-7, 0-4 ACC). It's the first of three straight road games for Notre Dame.
NOTRE DAME 72, CLEMSON 56
At Purcell Pavilion
CLEMSON (56): Hall 7-16 0-0 14, Tyson 4-8 3-3 12, Collins 1-2 3-5 5, Dawes 2-11 0-0 6, Honor 0-6 0-0 0, Hemenway 3-8 1-3 9, Hunter 3-5 0-0 7, Bohannon 1-3 1-1 3, Schieffelin 0-1 0-0 0, Middlebrooks 0-0 0-0 0, Foster 0-1 0-0 0, Fox 0-0 0-0 0, D.Nauseef 0-0 0-0 0, J.Nauseef 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-61 8-12 56.
NOTRE DAME (72): Atkinson 3-6 1-1 7, Laszewski 2-4 3-4 8, Goodwin 8-10 2-2 21, Hubb 2-9 0-0 5, Wesley 6-14 6-9 20, Ryan 2-7 0-1 6, Wertz 2-5 0-0 5, Konieczny 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-0 0-0 0, Zona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 12-17 72.
Halftime: Notre Dame 39-22. 3-Point Goals: Clemson 6-32 (Hemenway 2-6, Dawes 2-10, Hunter 1-2, Tyson 1-2, Collins 0-1, Foster 0-1, Hall 0-4, Honor 0-6), Notre Dame 10-26 (Goodwin 3-3, Ryan 2-6, Wesley 2-7, Wertz 1-2, Laszewski 1-3, Hubb 1-5). Rebounds: Clemson 35 (Hall 7), Notre Dame 37 (Laszewski 8). Assists: Clemson 11 (Hall, Schieffelin 3), Notre Dame 11 (Laszewski, Hubb, Wertz 3). Total Fouls: Clemson 18, Notre Dame 16.