Men's Basketball: Irish are starting to make this road thing look ridiculously easy
There was no shortage of answers, which arrived from seemingly every direction, and from everyone.
That’s what this Notre Dame men’s basketball program has become, a runaway freight train of confidence and composure with each passing Atlantic Coast Conference road game, a group that shows no signs of slowing.
You want to step in front of that? Full speed ahead.
Every time yet another road crowd felt it had a chance to cheer for more than a handful of minutes, had a chance to maybe see their team win a league game, Notre Dame collectively got its act together and played in a way that offered two words to the audience.
Like, nope, not going to happen.
Sorry, not sorry.
It didn’t matter that Notre Dame saw what had been a 17-point lead shaved to single digits early in the second half. Didn’t matter that Clemson got some semblance of good offense and some stops cobbled together in that second half. Every time the Irish need to do something about the home team feeling good about itself, it put their foot down and stepped on the gas.
In the process, Notre Dame got out of South Carolina late Saturday with something that’s become all too common this season after being so uncommon in previous ones – another league road win for the cruel and confident Irish, 76-61.
Winners of four straight, eight of nine and a staggering 14 of 16, Notre Dame improved to 18-7 overall, 11-3 in the ACC. On a day where everything around the top of the league standings got tight – six teams now have double-digit league wins – the Irish never did. They just played loose and relaxed and confident that they were going to figure it out.
When they did figure it out, they left for home tied with No. 7 Duke still atop the standings. No league team has more conference wins than the Irish. No league team has more league road wins as the Irish. They did it by delivering not a decisive one knockout punch, as we’ve so often seen this program do, but by peppering the Tigers with a series of body blows until the home team just had nothing left.
Throw in the towel, already.
This one, really, was rather easy.
Notre Dame’s sixth road win in its eighth league road game may have been its best. The Irish led for a staggering 38:46, and twice by as many as 17. They trailed for only 24 seconds. It was their most lopsided road win all year. On Feb. 12. They just went into yet another building far from home and made themselves feel like they were back in Purcell Pavilion.
This one was fun. To watch. To write on.
Clemson twice got to within seven points over the final 18 minutes. It never got any closer. Notre Dame wouldn't let it and led by double digits the final 7:32. That's the sign of a good team, a mature team, a confident team. A scary team.
“Every time their crowd wanted to get into it, we had a mature, assassin-like offensive possession,” Brey said. “That’s where this group has really, really grown in knowing how to control tempo and how to get something smart offensively to kind of slow a building down.”
Right at home on the road
This is a different Notre Dame animal from past seasons in how this group has gone on the road and really gone for it. Fans sitting at home with a cold drink in their hand or a warm fire at their feet may see how the Irish seemingly mess around with big leads and wonder why they have to do that. Why can’t they just steamroll a league opponent? Why do they have to make it look so darn hard?
Perhaps true, but in some ways, the Irish have made it seem like it looks hard because they make it look so easy. Saturday was another case in point. Clemson goes on a spurt, the fans try to get going, but the guys from South Bend, they just kind of collectively shrug their shoulders as if to say, OK, watch this.
Note Dame has led by double digits in each of its last five league road games. That’s saying something.
“I didn’t know we could be this cruel and tough (on the road),” Brey said. “I thought we had a chance to really grow. Our seniors were very hungry to do something special.”
Don't look now, but this is shaping up to be special. What are you doing four weeks from Sunday? The Irish sure have plans to watch a certain selection show for more than just the experience.
Just when it looked to get tight Saturday, Dane Goodwin drops in another 3. Or Cormac Ryan. Or Blake Wesley, who was as about as hot down south as it is cold back home up north, makes another shot. Having just been pretty good over a recent stretch, Wesley had “breakout night” written all over his game. He just did. It was time.
He was going to get going early and keep going. Wesley scored 18 points in the first eight-plus minutes of the first half. He attacked the basket. He hit a step-back corner 3. He drove the lane and instead of forcing a shot, found Prentiss Hubb camped in the corner for another 3.
“The young guy’s special, and he jump-started us,” Brey said. “When you have a special one, you kind of let him go. He’s really a gifted guy. You try to not take him out.”
Wesley cooled, but that was OK, because when he did, that allowed one of the old guys – Goodwin – to cook. Goodwin was quiet in the first half, then noisy in the second. He was the one guy that the Irish could run offense through. Need a big shot? Look for Goodwin. Need a bucket? Find No. 23. He scored 16 of his 20 in the second half.
“We rode him there for a stretch,” Brey said. “Thankfully our group knows who to ride and then there’s no baggage or jealousy.”
When it wasn’t Goodwin, it was a little more Wesley, or a lot from Ryan, a guy Brey cautioned last week to keep an eye on as someone who still had more to give on the offensive end. Ryan then delivered 13 points, most of those on big, back-breaking 3s.
“Prentiss has done a great job quarterbacking the whole thing,” Brey said.
Best part about everything is that this seems to be a team with no ego. They know Goodwin should be a first team all-league guy. He’s played like it, and they’re good with it. They know Wesley’s a once-in-a-decade type of talent who sometimes needs to be turned loose, and they’re secure in that. Ryan will have his moments like Saturday. So will Trey Wertz. And Hubb. Atkinson was coming off league player of the week honors. Even Nate Laszewski, back in the mix after missing the better part of two games, played a supporting role, but was good with it.
The Irish are good with everything. With anything.
“We were really methodical offensively,” Brey said.
As methodical and efficient as they were on offense (where they hit 13 3s), they continued to do it on the defensive end. Saturday marked the seventh straight game where a league opponent failed to score more than 65 points. Notre Dame has traveled a lot over the last five-plus weeks, and has packed its defense nearly every single trip. The Irish continue to guard, continue to rebound, continue to play in a way that shows you that they’re just not happy to be tied atop the league standings as February hits the halfway point.
“We feel we’ve got a chance, man,” Brey said.
They want more. Who’s going to tell them no? Because right now, they’re making this look like it hasn’t looked in years.
They’re making it look easy.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI
► NOTRE DAME 76, CLEMSON 61
At Littlejohn Coliseum
NOTRE DAME (76): Atkinson 4-6 1-2 9, Goodwin 8-13 1-2 20, Hubb 2-9 0-0 5, Ryan 5-8 0-0 13, Wesley 7-12 2-4 21, Wertz 3-5 1-2 8, Laszewski 0-2 0-0 0, Zona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 5-10 76.
CLEMSON (61): Hall 9-19 1-1 19, Schieffelin 3-5 0-0 6, Dawes 0-6 0-0 0, Honor 4-9 2-2 12, Hunter 2-7 1-2 6, Bohannon 5-9 0-0 10, Hemenway 3-6 0-0 8. Totals 26-61 4-5 61.
Halftime: Notre Dame 38-28. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 13-24 (Wesley 5-6, Ryan 3-4, Goodwin 3-5, Wertz 1-2, Hubb 1-5, Laszewski 0-2), Clemson 5-18 (Hemenway 2-5, Honor 2-5, Hunter 1-4, Dawes 0-4). Rebounds: Notre Dame 31 (Goodwin, Ryan, Wesley 6), Clemson 28 (Schieffelin 9). Assists: Notre Dame 16 (Atkinson 4), Clemson 10 (Hunter 3). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 7, Clemson 8. A_7,524 (10,000).