Men's Basketball: The ACC tournament had been good to Notre Dame, until Thursday

Tom Noie
ND Insider

NOTRE DAME vs. VIRGINIA TECH: How it happened, what’s next 

NEW YORK – A car horn honks, a siren wails, a garbage truck rumbles up the street. 

That’s life in the big city at all hours. 

Life in the big city this week for No. 2 seed Notre Dame meant Atlantic Coast Conference tournament play, where the Irish planned for an extended stay to the point where they’d play for a third conference tournament title since 2015.

Didn't work out that way.

Given a 65 percent chance to win a league tournament quarterfinal at Barclays Center, No. 7 seed Virginia Tech made good on those odds with a 87-80 victory that sent Notre Dame (22-10) home way earlier than anticipated. 

Here are three reasons why: 

►Those lights again were too bright 

When Notre Dame looked nothing like itself earlier in the year in a 57-43 home loss to Duke, coach Mike Brey cautioned his team that that wouldn’t be the last time a big moment stared the Irish in the face the rest of the year. 

A big moment was coming again somewhere down the line, and his team had to embrace it. Answer it. Accept it. 

The Irish did none of that in their league tournament opener. Almost from the jump, this looked like a team that didn’t belong. Notre Dame let Virginia Tech score the first seven points, tumbled into a double-digit deficit less than five minutes in and spent the rest of the first half digging out of a hole that grew to 16 points. 

The bright lights of the big city were a bit too bright for an Irish team that talked a confident game in the days leading into postseason play, but never could play one.

When they did it getting as close as four points, it was too late.

Live updates:Notre Dame loses to Virginia Tech in ACC tournament

►So much for a starting lineup shuffle 

For the first time since Dec. 20, Notre Dame fielded a different starting lineup that wasn’t dictated by an injury. Brey substituted power forward Nate Laszewski, who had bene a starter before suffering a right leg injury in early February, back into the starting lineup Thursday. 

Going to the bench was senior captain Dane Goodwin, the team’s second-leading scorer at 14 points per game. A third team all-league selection, Goodwin had struggled of late, scoring 10 or fewer points in four of the last five games. How would he respond to coming off the bench for the first time this year after starting all 31 games? 

Well, not well. 

Goodwin sat for barely three minutes to start, then floated through a scoreless/invisible first half. Worse, he didn’t even attempt a shot. He was just kind of there. So were many of his teammates. 

Goodwin finally took his first shot with 18:02 remaining. It missed. He finally got a layup to fall off a determined drive with just over 12 minutes remaining. 

Brey’s pushed a lot of the right buttons over the years when it comes to shuffling his starting lineup. Thursday wasn’t one of them. 

►League tourney karma got the Irish 

For the previous seven league tournaments, Notre Dame had won at least one game. Even last year, when it trailed North Carolina by 50 and lost by 42, it had advanced with a buzzer-beating Trey Wertz bucket over Wake Forest. The Irish hadn’t lost their first league tournament game since 2014 – the first year they joined the year. 

Notre Dame had designs on getting to Saturday night and the league championship game for the third time since 2015. But it had to prove it could actually get there through its play. The Irish instead played like they were playing out the string. Happy for the experience. Tired from a long grind of a season. 

Virginia Tech was maybe the one team Notre Dame didn’t want to see. Good size. Length. Good action on offense. It was going to be an uphill climb, regardless of the Hokies needing overtime the previous night to escape Clemson. 

Brey’s a big believer in karma. He knew it was bound to swing the other way. He just didn’t want it to swing Thursday. But it did. In a big way. 

►What’s next for Irish? 

Head for home after an extended stay in Manhattan – the Irish traveling party arrived Sunday – and forget about everything that happened in Thursday’s quarterfinal. Notre Dame likely is going back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 come Selection Sunday. 

Is Notre Dame a No. 9 seed? A 10? An 11? Heck, does it get sent to Dayton as a 12 and have to participate in one of the four play-in games? Doesn’t much matter. The Irish are in – yes, the second-place team in the ACC that won a school record 15 conference games isn't being left out. After Thursday, the Irish feel they still have plenty to prove. 

Time to go prove it. 

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