Men's Basketball: Another close one in ACC, but this one doesn't go Notre Dame's way

Tom Noie
ND Insider

Following are NDI beat writer/columnist Tom Noie’s top three storylines/observations and other odds and ends/notes and quotes from Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference contest between Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, won by the Hokies, 79-73, which snapped Notre Dame’s six-game win streak, including four in a row in the league. 

Virginia Tech's Storm Murphy drives around Notre Dame's Dane Goodwin in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Cassell Coliseum, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. (Scott P. Yates/The Roanoke Times via AP)

►Scoring 73 points on the road in a league game against the No. 2 defensive team should be enough to get a road win. 

Not when you allow 79 in the way Notre Dame (10-6 overall; 4-2 ACC) allowed them. After being solid and sound collectively in the first half, Notre Dame allowed 47 points in the final 20 minutes. It allowed a team that had been searching offensively to get confident and get going, which got the crowd going and confident. 

Virginia Tech shot 69.6 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from 3 in the second half. Ouch. 

The one or two stops Notre Dame mustered in a win streak that was snapped at six never surfaced Saturday. Notre Dame tried man. Notre Dame tried zone. It never found a defense it could rely on for extended stretches. 

“I just don’t think we were good enough defensively to win,” said coach Mike Brey “We were good enough offensively all night to win the game. Not good enough defensively.” 

►The Irish also weren’t fine from the line. 

Notre Dame came into the contest the best free throw shooting team in the ACC at .757 percent. That will keep you in a lot of league road games. That will win you a lot of league road games. Notre Dame then went 9-of-14 (64.3) percent in the second half. That will lose you a lot of league road games. 

Notre Dame lost this one, in part because it failed from the foul line. The Irish missed three free throws over the final 86 seconds. There’s your ball game. 

►What’s the old saying, two out of three ain’t bad? Same should’ve gone for the scouting report – and for the Irish defense. 

Notre Dame was OK with playing a mix of man and zone defenses while leaving Virginia Tech big men Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts defended by one guy most of the night. Make that, all of the night. Brey was OK with Aluma and/or Mutts getting theirs, just as long as a third Hokie didn’t step up and blow up the scouting report. 

Guard Nahiem Alleyne blew up the scouting report. 

Mutts scored 24 points and Aluma added 17, offensive efforts that were tolerable by Notre Dame's defensive standards. But when Alleyne broke loose for a season high 22 points, that was too much for the Irish to overcome. They can let one guy get his. They can let two guys get theirs. But three? One too many. 

“He made some really, really big ones,” Brey said of Alleyne. “He gave them a great lift today.” 

Notre Dame's Paul Atkinson Jr. gets the rebound against Virginia Tech during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Cassell Coliseum, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. (Scott P. Yates/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Who’s hot? 

He battled four trouble in the second half and fouled out late, but Paul Atkinson, Jr., played a heck of a game with 19 points, his career high in ACC play, to go with nine rebounds in 34 minutes. He needed to stay in the game, but his game put Notre Dame in position to possibly win another league road game. His footwork and patience in the low post was something to watch.  

“Paul was fabulous,” Brey said. “It’s too bad we lost him there at the end. He was great. He gave us an opportunity.” 

Who’s not? 

Cormac Ryan. The senior guard/captain just has to be better. Fair or not, harsh or not, when you’re a veteran guy going to the free throw line for two free throws with 44 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game, you have make them both. No excuses. No exceptions. Not from someone shooting 80 percent from the line this season. 

Ryan will be the first to admit that, yeah, that’s on him, but at some point, it has to stop being on him. He’s got to make the play to win a close game. That’s what senior captains do. That play Saturday were the two free throws. 

Jan 3, 2022; Washington, DC, USA; Traffic at a standstill as cars are stuck in heavy snow on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge heading intro Virginia from DC as a winter storm dumped heavy snow across the South and mid-Atlantic on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, snarling traffic, causing power outages and shutting the federal government in Washington, D.C.. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Tricky travel 

The original itinerary for this holiday weekend’s two-game road swing to Blacksburg, Va., and then on to Washington for Monday’s game against Howard had the Notre Dame traveling party staying Saturday in Virginia, then busing four hours Sunday up to the nation’s capital. 

With Blacksburg under a winter storm warning from 1 a.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday, Notre Dame juggled its itinerary and was scheduled to leave for Washington immediately after the game. Blacksburg is expecting a tenth of an inch of ice and three to eight inches of snow with winds gusts up to 40 mph. 

Washington is expected one to three inches of snow starting sometime Sunday afternoon. 

Travel issues seem to accompany every college basketball team this time of year, but it’s affected Notre Dame each of the last two weekends. 

The Irish traveling party was unable to land in South Bend due to poor visibility/ice following the Jan. 8 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Notre Dame’s charter flight diverted to Indianapolis, where the Irish were prepared to spend the night before traveling home the next morning. 

But with the College Football Playoff national championship game set for Monday, there were no hotels or charter buses. The Irish had to wait for a charter bus to make the 150-mile drive from South Bend to Indianapolis International Airport, then return with the team to South Bend. 

Notre Dame returned back to campus around 6 a.m. the morning of Jan. 9, about seven hours behind schedule. 

History lesson 

No Notre Dame trip to Cassell Coliseum is complete without remembering a certain Saturday in late February during the 2000-01 season. A loss by Syracuse to Georgetown earlier in the afternoon made it real clear for the Irish and their first-year coach, Brey. Beating the Hokies that afternoon would help Notre Dame clinch a Big East West Division regular-season championship and all but guarantee that the Irish would go to the NCAA tournament for the first time over a decade. 

Virginia Tech never had a chance. 

All-American power forward Troy Murphy scored 20 points with 10 rebounds while sophomore guard Matt Carroll added 19 points, five rebounds and three assists as Notre Dame steamrolled to an 85-61 victory. They celebrated in the locker room afterward, then returned to the court for a team photo. Later than night, while still in Blacksburg in advance of traveling the next day to Hartford, Conn., and a Big Monday game against Connecticut, several Irish (Murphy, David Graves, Harold Swanagan, Carroll, Martin Ingelsby) gathered in the hotel room of former trainer Skip Meyer and called their former coach, John MacLeod, and thank him for all he’d done in recruiting/coaching them. 

Class move. 

That season ended with Notre Dame’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1990. 

Worth quoting 

“Getting one league win, it’s just hard to get a league win.” 

-Brey 

Jan 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Paul Atkinson Jr. (20) shoots as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) defends in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Worth noting 

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim mentioned recently on his radio show that the school would petition the NCAA to get an additional year of eligibility for his son, Jimmy, who transferred this season from Cornell. 

Ivy League schools have not allowed its students – or students who transferred from Ivy League schools – to receive the free COVID-19 year the NCAA offered to all college athletes. 

“It’s been out there,” Brey said of Ivy League athletes getting an additional year. “Some Ivy League parents, I heard, moved the needle. Rightfully, so. I agree. That’s an easy one. That’s as easy as what we did last year making all the transfers (immediately) eligible. 

“Like, it’s just the right thing to do.” 

Last year, former Santa Clara guard Trey Wertz was ruled immediately eligible in mid-December at Notre Dame rather than sitting out the required year after transferring.  

Atkinson spent four years in the Ivy League at Yale before transferring in the spring. He did not play in 2020-21 after the conference cancelled all winter sports. 

Atkinson has not planned to return to Notre Dame for the 2022-23 season, but that thinking may change if the NCAA grants additional year waivers to former Ivy League student-athletes. 

“If that happens, we certainly would have that discussion with Paul,” Brey said. “I don’t think it’s anywhere near his mind (but) that would be a discussion.” 

Virginia Tech players celebrates after defeating Notre Dame in an NCAA college basketball game at Cassell Coliseum, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. (Scott P. Yates/The Roanoke Times via AP)

By the numbers 

► 0: Number of turnovers for Notre Dame in first half. The Irish didn’t commit their first miscue until 13:58 remained. The Irish turned it over only three times the entire night. 

► 3: A win would’ve given the Irish three straight league road wins for the first time since early in 2016-17. 

► 4: A win would've moved Notre Dame into a two-way tie with Miami (Fla.) for first place in the league. Instead, it ended the week tied with Florida State for fourth.

► 6.5: Virginia Tech was favored to beat Notre Dame by 6.5 points, a surprisingly large number against a team that had won six straight and seven of eight. In its previous three ACC road games – at Boston College, at Pittsburgh, at Georgia Tech – Notre Dame was favored to win by one, by six and by four points. 

► 5:52: Time remaining when Atkinson picked up his fourth foul and Brey was tagged with a technical. The Irish led 62-59 before the possession, then trailed 64-62 after it. They never again had the lead after owning it for 32:39. 

► 6:31: Notre Dame’s leading scorer, Dane Goodwin, went the final 6:31 without a basket following his Dirk Nowitzki-like fade jumper from the baseline. 

► 28: Number of days since Notre Dame had last lost a college basketball game – Dec. 18, 2021 – against Indiana at the final Crossroads Classic in Gainbridge Fieldhouse. 

► 40: Notre Dame controlled just about everything in the first half to score the most points of any Virginia Tech opponent this season. In two games against the Hokies last season, Notre Dame averaged 57 points. 

► 501: With two assists Saturday, Hubb became the ninth player in school history to hand out at least 500 assists in his career. 

Howard forward Randall Brumant (20) in action during an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Next up 

Notre Dame set out after the game on a four-hour bus ride north in advance of Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr., matinee in Washington against Howard at Burr Gym. Practice is scheduled Sunday afternoon at Burr. It’s the second of three straight road games, which wraps Saturday at Louisville in a return to ACC play. 

►VIRGINIA TECH 79, NOTRE DAME 73

At Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.

NOTRE DAME (73): Atkinson 8-12 3-4 19, Laszewski 2-4 2-2 6, Goodwin 5-10 0-0 13, Hubb 4-11 3-3 11, Wesley 4-12 5-7 15, Ryan 2-6 0-2 6, Wertz 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 26-57 13-18 73.

VIRGINIA TECH (79): Aluma 7-14 3-5 17, Mutts 9-11 5-6 24, Alleyne 8-10 2-2 22, Cattoor 0-3 1-2 1, Murphy 4-7 0-0 12, N'Guessan 0-1 0-0 0, Pedulla 0-1 0-0 0, Maddox 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 29-49 11-15 79.

Halftime: Notre Dame 40-32. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 8-20 (Goodwin 3-5, Ryan 2-2, Wesley 2-7, Wertz 1-1, Laszewski 0-2, Hubb 0-3), Virginia Tech 10-20 (Alleyne 4-5, Murphy 4-7, Maddox 1-1, Mutts 1-1, N'Guessan 0-1, Cattoor 0-2, Aluma 0-3). Fouled Out: Atkinson. Rebounds: Notre Dame 25 (Atkinson 9), Virginia Tech 26 (Aluma 8). Assists: Notre Dame 12 (Wesley 4), Virginia Tech 13 (Mutts, Alleyne, Cattoor 3). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 13, Virginia Tech 18. A: 8,925 (10,052).

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