Men's Basketball: Irish pick good time to deliver, but they've done that a lot on the road
Following are NDI beat writer/columnist Tom Noie’s top three storylines/observations and other odds and ends/notes and quotes from Wednesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference contest between Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.), won by the Irish 68-64.
► Every excuse in the college basketball handbook (is there one?) was there for Notre Dame to lean on Wednesday. Every single one.
Playing the first-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. On the road. Playing its second game in three days and fourth in eight. Coming off a home loss Monday where No. 9 Duke pounded its collective pride.
Yeah, nobody would’ve thought twice had this one been a no-show for Notre Dame. Except the Irish showed. And played. And competed. And fought through any lingering feelings of maybe feeling sorry for themselves to go and win on the road for the fifth time in the last six tries.
Irish coach Mike Brey counseled his team that this one would be the ultimate bounce-back challenge. Could they get it? They got it, and when they did, no league team had more conference wins than the Irish (15-7; 8-3) when Wednesday ended.
“I’m really proud,” Brey said. “For them to deliver like they did, I think there’s some special stuff about the group. They’ve shown it at times.”
Showed it big time Wednesday.
► Miami likes to run and score and run and score some more, but never really was able to get out in transition and get buckets in bunches. For all the numbers that said the Hurricanes would easily get to 70 points and maybe even get to 80, a lot about this one favored the Irish, who like to play with patience and pace and poise and run really good offense.
Teams don't want to play that way. Can't play that way. see, Miami.
For the most part, Notre Dame did all that, dictating the tempo (with only 60 possessions), which forced Miami to play a slow-down, halfcourt kind of game.
Notre Dame had three different scoring spurts of 10-0. That’s three separate gut punches from a team that 48 hours ago scored only 43 points.
“We just wanted to keep the tempo right,” said senior guard/captain Prentiss Hubb.
Save for a couple times Miami got on and got stuff in transition, Notre Dame kept this one right where it wanted it. Where it needed it. Closing out four games in eight days, the Irish couldn’t get in a track, meet. The Irish never did. Miami finished with only nine baskets that were layups or dunks. Notre Dame had 16. The Irish made it look easy. The Hurricanes had a hard time.
“We had control of that tempo,” Brey said.
► The blueprint for this league road win was simple — get power forward Paul Atkinson, Jr., going early on his return to his home area (he’s from West Palm Beach, Fla.) then follow Hubb’s swagger in a second half that saw the Irish lead by as many as 14.
Atkinson made his first seven shots from the field and scored 15 points in the first half en route to a season high 23 points.
“Just being myself; I don’t want to get out of character,” Atkinson said. “Just play my game and make sure I keep a level head.”
Come the second half, Hubb wanted the ball in his hands. He basically snatched it from freshman guard Blake Wesley after one defensive possession. Like, gimmie that. I'm taking over. Then down by two, Hubb fired in two consecutive 3s to put the Irish up four. That kickstarted a 22-6 run. Miami never led again.
“I can’t believe there’s a quarterbacking guard playing better,” Brey said. “He senses when he’s got to go for the jugular. He has really quarterbacked us and helped us.”
Hubb scored 13 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes. He finished with six assists and two steals to one turnover. He also got back to his old swaggering/confident self, even holding his index finger to his lips – telling the crowd to be quiet – after one second-half 3.
“It was just my turn to step up,” Hubb said.
Atkinson, who started rolling even before he went for his season high for points to go with 11 rebounds on Wednesday. He came into the Miami game having gone for 14 points and nine rebounds in each of the previous two games. For a guy who was benched for stretches in January because Brey didn’t like his compete level, he’s competing. At a high level. At the right time.
Senior guard Trey Wertz plays with a pace about him that says he just rolled out of bed, but he’s looked even more sluggish of late. Just something about his game that’s just kind of there. He didn't score Wednesday and has gone scoreless in three of his last four games. For this team to max out this season, it needs to get it from all seven guys in the rotation. Wertz has to be more of a part of it. Be more leader than liability. More steady than shaky.
He's too experienced and too important to just sort of be involved.
The easiest game to go with is last season, also at Watsco Center, when Brey went bizarro on everyone and benched his five starters, started his five bench guys, and Notre Dame won 90-77.
Let’s take a trip in the way-back machine, to Feb. 23, 2002 and the old Miami Arena, which sat in a sketchy part of the Overtown section of the city. It was a building where writers were given police escorts from the media gate to the parking lot, but that often didn’t dissuade someone from asking you for any extra spare coins or cash.
On that night, Miami came into the contest ranked No. 13 with future NBA guys James Jones, Darius Rice and John Salmons. But Notre Dame, with freshman guard Chris Thomas, veterans David Graves and Ryan Humphrey and a seldom-used sophomore in Torrian Jones, was better. Those guys played more like pros in a key road win.
On his way to Big East freshman of the year, Thomas scored 32 points with 12 assists and six rebounds. Humphrey tallied a double double for 15 points, 10 rebounds Graves added 18 points and five rebounds and Jones burst off the bench for a career high 17 points as Notre Dame scored 51 points.
Some Irish may or may not have almost missed the team bus to the airport the next morning. As in, they just may have lost track of time and stayed out too late on South Beach. Maybe.
That was the game where the Irish mantra of being “road dawgs” was born. That came courtesy of then-team manager Tom Pariso, who had blue T-shirts made with “Road Dawgs 2001-2002” in gold on the back.
That police escort back to the rental car never felt so good.
“We wanted our extra day in Miami to be a good day and not a bad day with a loss.”
Worth quoting II
“This team is confident. I don’t think anybody was scared. We took that “L” on Monday, but we were ready to bounce back right after the game.”
Wesley seemingly has run face first into the proverbial rookie wall.
Since going for 22 points on 8-of-13 from the floor and 3-4 from 3 with two assists and basically taking over in the second half of the Jan. 22 win at Louisville, the South Bend Riley product has struggled with his shot.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, Wesley was a combined 8-of-42 (.190 percent) from the field and 3-of-16 (.187 percent) from 3 in games against North Carolina State, Virginia and Duke. The Duke game marked the first time Wesley didn’t score double figures (six points) since the Nov. 22 game against Saint Mary’s (five), a run of 17 straight double figure scoring games.
Some of the struggles are fixable in that Wesley has relied maybe too much on his outside shot. He's at his best – and so are the Irish – when he’s attacking the basket and finding guys off the dribble for open looks. He entered Wednesday’s game with 12 assists in his previous three games. Continue to find guys and attack, and the shots should fall.
Counting the two exhibitions, Wednesday was game No. 24 for Wesley in his first season. He played in 26 his senior season at Riley.
Wesley’s too talented to struggle for long. He should figure it out. He finished 2-of-13 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3 for five points Wednesday, but did have a team-high seven assists.
By the numbers
► 0: Number of players on the Miami roster who call Florida home.
► 2: Notre Dame closed Wednesday tied for second in the ACC with Miami and North Carolina. All three are 8-3. The Irish own the tie-breaker over both teams.
► 3: Number of players on the Notre Dame roster who call Florida home – Atkinson (West Palm Beach), Nate Laszewski (Jupiter), Tony Sanders Jr. (Miami).
► 4: No ACC team has more league road wins than Notre Dame, which has now won at Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Miami.
► 14: After going scoreless for the first time since late in his freshman season against Duke, Irish guard Dane Goodwin bounced back with 14 points, including a big 3 late when Miami was trying to climb back into it. Goodwin's bucket said, nope, not tonight.
►20: Number of assists the Irish tallied Wednesday. When they’re moving it and sharing it like that, they can play with anyone. Maybe even beat anyone.
►33:51: Time that Notre Dame led Wednesday in a game that was dominated by its pace and tempo and everything else.
►38-35: After being outrebounded by 13 against Virginia and then by 15 against Duke, Notre Dame won the rebounding battle (+3) on Wednesday. The Hurricanes weren’t able to get out in transition, in part because the Irish did a better job on the backboard.
► 44: Points in the paint scored by Notre Dame. Even when the 3s weren’t falling in the first half (1-for-15), the Irish found other ways to get good offense. Finding Atkinson and driving it were two really good ways.
►76: High temperature Wednesday in Coral Gables.
► 78.7: Miami came into the contest ranked first in scoring in league games, then was held 14 points below that average.
Wait, those guys again?
Playing a 20-game league schedule that includes six repeat opponents often leads to some weird scheduling stuff. Notre Dame could go over a calendar year without seeing some opponents based on matchups, others, like this next one, a mere 11 days.
On Saturday, Notre Dame and North Carolina State meet for a second time in less than two weeks. The Irish won the first matchup, 73-65, back in South Bend on Jan. 26. Now, can they get another one on the road? PNC Arena has proven a tough place to play for Notre Dame, which has lost its last two in the NHL hockey building that sits across the parking lot from Carter-Finley Stadium. Notre Dame hasn’t won there since Feb. 18, 2017.
North Carolina State’s not very good, but the Wolfpack athleticism is always scary. They have guys in Jericole Hellems, Dereon Seabron and Terquavion Smith who can just go and get 20 points without breaking a sweat. Sometimes 30. Notre Dame is the better team, but can it be on Saturday?
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI
► NOTRE DAME 68, MIAMI (Fla.) 64
At Watsco Center, Coral Gables, Fla.
Halftime: Notre Dame 30-28. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 6-26 (Hubb 3-8, Goodwin 2-4, Ryan 1-4, Wertz 0-1, Laszewski 0-2, Wesley 0-7), Miami 8-25 (Walker 2-2, Wong 2-5, Moore 2-8, Joseph 1-2, McGusty 1-6, J.Miller 0-1, Waardenburg 0-1). Rebounds: Notre Dame 36 (Atkinson 11), Miami 31 (Walker 8). Assists: Notre Dame 20 (Wesley 7), Miami 17 (Moore 7). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 6, Miami 12. A: 6,363 (8,000).