Same old story in Atlantic Coast Conference play for Notre Dame, and it's not a good read
Watching this Notre Dame men’s basketball team again struggle to sustain its collective confidence, struggle in another Atlantic Coast Conference game, struggle to feel any sort of good about itself, and you could sense this one coming.
Well, you could sense how this one was ending. Just had to wait it out. We’ve seen it before, and it’s not been pretty. At home. On the road. Against good teams. Against not-so-good teams.
It all got a lot uglier Tuesday night out in New England.
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In a league game and on a night when the Irish did a lot right to win, they instead were left to again pick up the pieces after falling to 8-7 overall and 0-4 in the ACC with a 70-63 setback at Boston College.
When they've not been bullied, the Irish have been bad. Tuesday, they were that.
“Heartbreaking,” said coach Mike Brey. “We had ourselves in position. We couldn’t finish, but that’s kind of us. We’re a little fragile finishing.”
Enough of this farce about fragility. Four years ago, when all these super seniors and fifth-year guys were freshmen, fragility was accepted/explainable when Notre Dame finished 3-15 in the league. Those young Irish didn’t know any better. They were young. They hadn’t been around. They weren't ready.
These guys are old and have been around. They’ve won. They’ve won together. Why they can’t do anything close to that this season might go down as one of the program’s greatest mysteries. Any ideas? Any clues? No? You’re not alone.
Notre Dame is 0-4 in league play for the second time since 2020-21, but that one was understandable. That was the COVID-19 year, when nobody knew if the season would last one month or one week. Now, this one can't end soon enough, and we're only in the first freakin' week of January.
This is an old group, but it’s not a very together group. Or confident group. You can sense it, and you can see it. When the going got tough Tuesday, the other team got going. Again.
Notre Dame has made winning in league play, winning overall, look impossible over the last month plus. The Irish have lost two straight, five of six and six of eight as a season of promise continues to freefall to who knows how far. But losing, yeah, the Irish have made that look easy.
When the Irish lost last month, Brey pointed a finger at the players, and wondered when someone was going to put a chest on somebody and stand tall and show some fight. Last week, Brey pointed the finger at himself, wondering openly if he had done enough to really help his guys.
What button does the beleaguered Brey try and push next? Is there one? Well, besides, eject. Yeah, the winningest coach in program history and all that history deserves better, but so does everyone else. We deserve way better than this, what ever this is.
We’re four games into league play and 15 games in overall, and there’s not a single area that anyone can point to on this team and say that, ah, yeah, these Irish, they do this well. Well, there is one — they lose.
That win over then-No. 20 Michigan State in November? That was supposed to be the rule. Turns out it might be the exception. Notre Dame played its one together game. From high water to under water, Notre Dame is drowning in disappointment.
This group’s got losing down cold. They know how to give away games. Did it last month in a one-point loss in the conference opener at home to Syracuse, then on the road by one point to Florida State. Last week back at home against Miami (Fla.) and again Tuesday. League win? Here, you take it.
Despite leading for a staggering 37:19 — Boston College didn’t get on the right side of the scoreboard until 1:42 remained — Notre Dame watched the home team run away on a 10-0 scoring spurt that turned what should’ve been the program’s first league win into the fourth straight loss.
There’s a proposal on the table to expand future NCAA tournaments to 90 teams. You could balloon it to 290 come March, and the Irish still wouldn’t get in. They’re that bad. The earlier this all ends in March the better for this bunch. Brey was right, these guys will have all sorts of options come season's end — for Spring Break. Florida sure sounds nice right about now.
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This one is almost as hard to write up as the final four minutes were to watch. Only the final score and the dateline and the name of the opponent changes.
Everything seemed to be going Notre Dame’s way. The Irish were up six with four minutes to play. They had weathered a second half of bad offense — Brey said at halftime that his team was so porous on defense that might have to score 80 to get a win. Ha. Sure. Still, Boston College seemingly wasn’t going to make enough shots to climb back into this one.
What happens? Boston College made enough shots and climbed back into this one. Notre Dame had zero answers for guard Jaeden Zackery, who scored a season-high 18 points. He was escorted time and again to the hoop by Irish defenders. Like, come on down and lay another in. It had no answers for their bad man defense (zone anybody?). It had no answers on how to run any semblance of good offense.
It had no answers period.
Instead of breathing a sigh of relief on the charter flight home after getting a league win, a league win that would allow everyone to exhale, Notre Dame is left to wonder exactly where — and when and against whom — its first league win will come. Are we sure it will be this month? This season?
Three of the four losses have been to teams considered to finish in the bottom half of the league. Only ranked Miami (Fla.) is any good right now. The heavyweights still are waiting to get in their swings against a Notre Dame team that is decidedly lightweight.
Not only in league wins, but in belief, and that’s what really is troubling about this team. That’s what’s ultimately torpedoed this season. It first showed itself Thanksgiving weekend with the loss to St. Bonaventure. Notre Dame was pushed around. By Bonaventure.
It feels like it just gets worse with every league loss, but this team was bad back then. We just didn't see it. Or want to see it. This core helped the program win 24 games last season, including those 15 in league play. But this is a core whose confidence is as thin as paper mache.
Nobody on this team, whether it’s freshman guard J.J. Starling or senior Cormac Ryan or super seniors Dane Goodwin and Marcus Hammond and Nate Laszewski and Trey Wertz, plays with the belief that Notre Dame’s going to win a game. They may look and play that way in the first half of games. They did it again Tuesday, when Notre Dame led by at least eight four times and was up by 10 early in the second half.
Good teams turn 10-point leads into 20-point leads. Bad teams give those good working leads away. When the second half gets going, and the other team gets into gear, something happens to these guys. They fade. They fold.
“We’ll keep working with them and trying to get them confident,” Brey said.
There’s only one way to corner that confidence and that’s to do something the Irish haven’t done in league play – win. Good luck with that.
Time’s not running short to do something. Time’s up. On this team. On this season. Maybe even on this coach. Maybe that's best.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
BOSTON COLLEGE 70, NOTRE DAME 63
NOTRE DAME 63): Laszewski 2-7 2-2 6, Goodwin 6-12 1-2 16, Ryan 5-11 0-0 11, Starling 6-14 1-4 16, Wertz 2-9 0-0 6, Hammond 2-5 0-0 5, Zona 1-2 0-0 2, Lubin 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 24-60 5-10 63.
BOSTON COLLEGE (70): Bickerstaff 1-1 0-2 2, Ashton-Langford 5-12 1-2 12, Langford 1-6 2-2 4, Zackery 7-10 3-5 18, Aligbe 5-8 5-6 15, Post 5-9 0-0 10, Madsen 2-4 0-0 4, Penha 1-2 1-2 3, McGlockton 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-54 12-19 70.
Halftime: Notre Dame 38-34. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 10-29 (Goodwin 3-5, Starling 3-6, Wertz 2-5, Hammond 1-2, Ryan 1-6, Laszewski 0-5), Boston College 2-12 (Zackery 1-2, Ashton-Langford 1-4, Penha 0-1, Post 0-1, Aligbe 0-2, Madsen 0-2). Rebounds: Notre Dame 26 (Laszewski, Goodwin 6), Boston College 37 (Post 9). Assists: Notre Dame 10 (Laszewski 3), Boston College 17 (Langford 8). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 17, Boston College 12. A: 4,194 (8,606).