Still a whole lot left for Irish men to accomplish, even after league loss at Florida State

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 Wednesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference contest between Notre Dame and Florida State, won by the Seminoles 74-70. 

Mar 2, 2022; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Prentiss Hubb (3) has the ball stripped by Florida State Seminoles guard Rayquan Evans (0) during the first half at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

► Notre Dame won its previous two ACC games against Georgia Tech and Syracuse, both by double digits, by being basketball players. By just playing the game, flowing on offense and getting stops and getting out in transition. 

Irish coach Mike Brey said Tuesday he needed to see that again Wednesday. But the size and length and athleticism of Florida State never let that happen. Everything seemed to come so darn difficult on the offensive end for the Irish. Looks at the rim were rushed or swatted away, even though the Irish did score a lot of buckets in close. 

“You can’t run any semblance of your ball-reversal, ball-control offense against the switching and getting out on you,” Brey said. “You just have to kind of have to ball screen and drive and make some plays. I thought we did that a lot, but you’re going to have to make a few more.” 

► More:Prentiss Hubb speaks the truth about his fellow Notre Dame senior guard

► Women's basketball: Citron named ACC Freshman of Year, Miles on first-team

No Notre Dame team is going to win any game — league or otherwise — by going 0-for-10 from 3 as the Irish did in the second half. It’s not going to happen, and one reason why it didn’t Wednesday. 

As comfortable as the Irish looked the last two games, they were that uncomfortable against the Seminoles’ size. It mattered. 

►Grabbing one defensive rebound or controlling one loose ball in the final 50 seconds really would’ve made this one interesting. 

The Irish got two consecutive stops in the closing minute, but couldn’t finish either possession. Florida State finished because it finished.

“That’s bit us at times, when we haven’t been able to control the ball,” Brey said. “We’ve been better at that for more nights, but not enough tonight.” 

Off the first possession, with the Irish down two and 46 seconds remaining, the Irish couldn’t secure a rebound and couldn’t smother a 50/50 ball. The Seminoles got to it, then got it to guard Anthony Polite for a crusher 3 to put the Seminoles up five. 

“That’s a big shot; that’s a hard shot,” Brey said. “That’s a little bit like some of the shots (Prentiss) Hubb has hit to kind of say, you’re not getting us tonight.” 

Down by two again after a Paul Atkinson, Jr., three-point play, same scenario. Same kind of result. Atkinson let a defensive rebound bounce off his hands and out of bounds with 10.7 seconds remaining. Instead of Irish ball with a chance to tie or the lead, Notre Dame fouled RayQuan Evans, an 85 percent foul shooter. Evans made both free throws to put the Seminoles up four, and put this one to bed. 

The visitors were a step short, a play short, all night. 

“It’s frustrating,” Brey said. “You look at it at the end and you go, you know, you really don’t deserve to win if you can’t control it.” 

►Getting a seventh league road win would’ve been nice. Locking up second place in the league would’ve been really cool, too. Winning for the first time in six tries in Tallahassee? Again, nice. But everything the Irish have to play for, other than a 7-3 league road record and Tallahassee success, is still in front of them. 

That’s why Brey didn’t spend much time on this one afterward. It was more of, tough game, hard game, but let’s get out of here and get home and go and get Saturday’s regular-season finale at home against Pittsburgh. 

“Just flushed it with our guys,” Brey said. “We moved on quickly.” 

A win Saturday gives the Irish (21-9; 14-5) the most league wins in school history. It locks up second place in the league for a team that was picked in preseason to finish eighth. It gives them a chance to muster some momentum for next week’s league tournament and beyond. 

Everything goes according to plan on Saturday, nobody is going to remember what didn’t happen in Tallahassee on Wednesday. 

“Saturday’s going to be a great day for us,” Brey said. “Let’s get out of here and move on.” 

Mar 2, 2022; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) takes a shot during the first half against the Florida State Seminoles at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s hot? 

Just go back to this one at the 4:38 mark of the first half and cue up the sequence when Hubb finds Blake Wesley on the perimeter in the halfcourt. Then watch Wesley go to work and, specifically, attack the rim and how he finishes. 

No regard for mankind. 

You need to see it. Again and again. Trust us. 

Wesley went for 21 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes. He could’ve used a running mate on Wednesday. That’s coming next year in McDonald’s All-American guard J.J. Starling. Maybe they play together, maybe they don’t. 

Mar 2, 2022; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin (23) is defended by Florida State Seminoles guard Wyatt Wilkes (31) during the first half at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s not? 

Senior guard Dane Goodwin has had it playing against any sort of size and length. Exhibits one and two were the games against Wake Forest (three points) and Syracuse (seven). Latest exhibit was Wednesday when the team’s second leading scorer (14.4 ppg.) finished with only six points on 3-of-10 from the floor, 0-for-2 from 3. 

That’s not enough to win an ACC game. Not enough to win what’s coming the rest of the month. 

Mar 6, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Prentiss Hubb (3) goes up for a shot as Florida State Seminoles guard Rayquan Evans (0) defends in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

History lesson 

Turning points have been aplenty this season for Notre Dame as it barrels toward its first NCAA tournament since 2017. Like the week of practice between the Boston College and Kentucky games. Or beating Kentucky at home. Or North Carolina. Or Virginia. Or doing what Notre Dame has done on the road in league play. 

But a home game against Florida State in the 2020-21 regular-season finale arguably helped light this fuse. Notre Dame led for a staggering 39:39 and by as many as 20 points to snap a 28-game losing streak to ranked teams with an 83-73 victory over then-No. 11 Florida State. 

“That,” Brey said, “really helped us.” 

Especially on the heels of what happened three nights earlier, also at home, also in league play. With Notre Dame lethargic and lackluster in an 80-69 loss to North Carolina State, a chant of “Fire Brey!” arose as the Irish left the court. No way Notre Dame was bouncing back from that. 

Four Irish then scored double figures led by Hubb’s 22 and 15 points, nine rebounds from Goodwin. 

“The N.C. State game was a tough night – they were ready to run me out of town,” Brey said. “I give the group a lot of cried for bouncing back and winning that game.” 

And, in the process, realizing that they could be good, if only the following year. 

“That was a great response by this nucleus even last year in the midst of a bounce back and trying to find some kind of identity,’ Brey said. 

Worth quoting 

“You could feel it coming when they made the first two. They kept making big ones. They made 12. What did we make? Five? Six? We made five. That’s probably not good math for us. It’s usually been the other way around for us.” 

— Brey on being outscored 36-15 from 3. 

Jan 25, 2020; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey (middle) reacts with officials during the second half against the Florida State Seminoles at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Worth noting 

Wednesday’s visit to Tallahassee was Notre Dame’s first since a memorable near-miss in January 2020, a night that left the Irish head coach $20,000 lighter after having to pay his first and only fine to a league office because of critical comments toward the league and its officials. 

Notre Dame led by as many as 11 points and trailed by as many as 14 in a game it wound up losing late, 85-84. Afterward, upset with a late bench technical assessed by referee John Gaffney, Brey lashed out at the league and at Gaffney. He said afterward that he knew the minute he left the dais that he’d be fined. 

“I love John Gaffney,” Brey joked last week. “Was that another fine? I love John Gaffney.” 

Brey promised to be better post-game Wednesday, regardless of the outcome. 

“If I can walk out of there and not owe the ACC any money, that is a huge win,” he said. “I can guarantee you that I will mentally put myself in a trance two minute before the game – shut up and don’t get involved with the officials.” 

Brey left Tallahassee with zero technicals and his checking account intact. 

By the numbers 

► 3: Florida State played Wednesday without its top three scorers – Caleb Mills (12.7 ppg.), Matthew Cleveland (11.4) and Malik Osborne (10.0). Mills and Osborne are own with injuries while Cleveland missed the game with a non-COVID virus. The Seminoles didn’t start anyone who is averaging double figures. 

► 6: Number of consecutive league road games prior to Wednesday’s that Notre Dame led at one point by double digits dating back to and including the Jan. 15 loss at Virginia Tech. The largest Irish lead against the Seminoles was five. 

► 6: Tallahassee remains the only stop on the ACC tour where Notre Dame has not won since joining the league in 2013-14. The Irish are 0-6.

► 8: The Irish wrap league road play with six wins to four losses. The previous three seasons combined, Notre Dame had eight league road wins - three, four, one. 

► 10: The Irish finished with only 10 assists, two in the second half. That’s not Notre Dame basketball. 

► 13: Prior to Wednesday’s game, Notre Dame was 0-5 all-time at the Tucker Center. Subtract a 19-point loss in that building during the 2015-16 season, one that ended with a second straight Elite Eight appearance, and Notre Dame had lost its other four games there by a total of 13 points – by one, two, three and seven. Now add another four points to that total.

► 48: The Irish scored 48 points in the paint Wednesday. That’s usually enough to win. Not this time. 

► 52: Having lost eight of its previous 10 league games, Florida State was given a 52 percent chance at winning Wednesday according to the bottom line on ESPN. 

► 89: Notre Dame’s last four league losses (Virginia Tech, Duke, Wake Forest, Florida State) have come over a span of 89 days since dropping its opener Dec. 3 at Boston College. 

► 98.5: Percentage of brackets tracked by The Bracket Matrix that Notre Dame appeared on (135 out of 137) prior to Wednesday’s game. That’s note-worthy because after Notre Dame won at Louisville on Jan. 22, the Irish appeared on only one – yes, one – bracket among the 115 tracked back then on the website. 

► 361: Number of days between regular season games between Florida State and Notre Dame, who have met only once each of the last two years. The teams played in South Bend in the regular-season finale last March, and the second-to-last game of the regular season Wednesday in Tallahassee. 

► 1987: Heading into the final week of the regular season, ACC home teams were a combined 74-62 in league play (54.4 percent). That would be the lowest win percentage for home teams in league play since 1987 when home teams won only 53.6 percent of league games. 

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

Next up 

The regular season home finale against a team Notre Dame beat back in late December that also helped the Irish believe – Pittsburgh. 

The Panthers are 11-19 overall, 6-13 and losers of three straight after Tuesday’s home loss to No. 4 Duke. Pittsburgh is one of six repeat opponents for Notre Dame, which won its first league game this season at Petersen Events Center on Dec. 28. A Hubb baseline jumper gave the Irish a 68-67 lead with five seconds remaining. It was win No. 3 inside a six-game win streak. 

Tip for Saturday’s game at Purcell Pavilion was recently set for 2:30 p.m. It had been a TBD (to be determined) all season. 

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

FLORIDA STATE 74, NOTRE DAME 70

At Tallahassee, Fla.

Halftime: Notre Dame 44-39. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 5-19 (Laszewski 3-4, Wertz 1-2, Hubb 1-6, Goodwin 0-2, Ryan 0-2, Wesley 0-3), Florida St. 12-29 (Butler 4-5, Evans 2-4, Polite 2-4, Wilkes 2-7, Fletcher 1-2, Prieto 1-3, Ngom 0-2, Warley 0-2). Rebounds: Notre Dame 35 (Atkinson 10), Florida St. 38 (Butler 8). Assists: Notre Dame 10 (Hubb, Ryan 3), Florida St. 16 (Evans 5). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 10, Florida St. 10. A: 8,401 (12,100).