Cormac Ryan speaks, and the Irish listen to finally win an Atlantic Coast Conference game
SOUTH BEND — As fragile as as a carton of eggs bouncing about at the bottom of a empty shopping cart with one of those rattling/loose wheels, Notre Dame had every excuse to collectively crack, maybe for good.
That’s it, these guys are done.
Instead, the Irish (9-8; 1-5) showed that maybe there’s still some fight left (dare to dream, right?) following a 73-72 overtime victory Tuesday over Georgia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
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Given how it’s gone to date, there was no way this one should’ve ended the way it did, with Notre Dame making the needed shots on one end and the absolute required stops on the other to snap its five-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak. But the way this league season, the way the last six weeks have unfolded for this basketball team, Notre Dame wasn't about to walk off its floor with a third straight home league loss and have to again pick up the pieces — and swallow even more pride — with an 0-6 ACC start.
Gotta believe? Gotta win before you believe. It was time for the Irish to win. Maybe now, they believe.
Every direction pointed Notre Dame toward additional disappointment. The Irish trailed by seven following an 8-2 Georgia Tech run with 3:36 remaining when one guy in a white and gold uniform, perhaps the one guy who wants to win more than any other, stood up during a timeout and let loose.
Call it a scorched court speech.
When graduate senior guard Cormac Ryan speaks, everyone — coaches, teammates, trainers, managers — listens. Arriving as a transfer from Stanford in the summer of 2019, Ryan took time to find his voice. To realize that it’s OK to speak when he has something to say. Over the last year-plus, and really at another level since his 2022 NCAA tournament run, Ryan found that voice.
Sometimes, it never ceases. That’s fine, especially on a team of really quiet, really serious guys.
You don’t become a three-time team captain — a team captain before you’ve ever played a game — being afraid to say something when something needs to be said.
Tuesday, something needed to be said following that Georgia Tech spurt where it looked like Notre Dame had given up. The Irish had made it too easy for the Yellow Jackets, and Ryan was angry.
In the closing minutes of Saturday’s loss at North Carolina, Ryan was back in the locker room after being ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul. Underneath the Smith Center stands, he had nobody to listen if he had something to say. That wasn’t the case in the closing minutes Tuesday.
With the Irish huddled in a circle under their basket, Ryan stood and spoke. Make that, yelled. He turned to this guy and then that guy while making his point. He sat, and then he stood, and then he sat and he screamed some more.
All the New York in the New York native washed over the Irish.
“C-Mac’s huddle,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Coach didn’t need to say anything. The guys react to him. He was unbelievable. Cormac wants it so bad. He’s invested so much.”
Back from the timeout, Notre Dame closed regulation on a 9-2 run. That included two clutch free throws from freshman guard J.J. Starling, who came off the bench for the first time ever in a basketball game, and an even more clutch 3 from guard Trey Wertz, who before tying it at 65 with 52.3 seconds remaining, had missed all five of his previous shots.
At a time when the Irish absolutely had to have it, they got it. From Ryan. From Starling. From Wertz. From everyone. What was the difference? Super senior guard Dane Goodwin could’ve proudly pointed to his double double (19 points and 12 rebounds), but instead pointed at Ryan and his words.
“Cormac kind of lit a fire under us and I think that certainly helped,” Goodwin said. “He just kind of got into us. It happens. That’s what a veteran leader should do. I think we responded well and I think we responded how we should have.”
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Notre Dame forced a shot-clock violation on Georgia Tech’s final possession of regulation to force overtime, which wasn’t assured until Starling’s baseline drive and layup rolled around and bounced out in the closing seconds.
The Irish resilience wasn’t done being tested. They were again backed into a corner in overtime, but again, they battled. They showed a fight that we haven’t always seen this season. Why now? At 0-5, there’s no other choice.
“We’re never going to go down not swinging,” Goodwin said. “We’re always going to have that fight. Down the stretch, we just kind of came together.”
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In overtime, the Irish twice trailed by two, but rallied behind 3-pointers from Goodwin and Wertz. Then another defensive possession in the closing seconds to seal it. The Yellow Jackets never did get a good look at a last shot. Some of that was them. Some of that was Notre Dame’s decision to dig in – defensively and overall – and go and grab a league win.
Got one. Finally.
Brey has talked since this conference slide commenced in early December about just getting one league win. In whatever fashion, and however ugly. Tuesday’s game, as is the case when Georgia Tech is the opponent, was ugly for long stretches. But the way Notre Dame won it, when it was given up for done about five times the final five-plus minutes of regulation and overtime, that might mean something.
By the end of the week, it might mean nothing. But it beats the alternative.
“We’ve got to stay committed; we’ve got to stay in it,” Goodwin said. “We have the ability to do it.”
These Irish needed something good to go their way in the worst way. They got something. That may not mean Notre Dame is ready to unleash a run of four, five, six wins in a row. Heck, it might not get to two if Notre Dame can’t figure out a way to be better Saturday against that 2/3 zone at Syracuse.
This still feels too much like a too fragile group, one that’s really not convinced it’s all that good, one that turns it over too much, doesn’t always shoot it or share it well, seems indifferent to defense and continues to search for anything that looks something like a regular rotation. But at least, the Irish got over that 0-fer ACC hump.
“It helps us, it really does,” Brey said. “Maybe we play better when we’re completely up against the wall like that instead of having a lead. I don’t know. We were looking for some confidence. We’re searching for something.”
That first league step often is the hardest. The Irish finally took that first league step on a night when many expected them to again fall on their league face. Be honest − how many figured the Irish weren't figuring this one out? Yeah, pretty much everyone.
“All we needed was one,” Starling said. “It’s a big confidence booster. We know as a team we can do it.”
If only for one night, and the few days that followed, there’s no talk about it being time for Brey to go, or for this guy to be benched or those guys to play more. Or how this season is a Dumpster fire. It still is. But this one was about Notre Dame doing something it hadn’t done prior to Tuesday since March 5 of last season.
It won an ACC game. It’s only one, but for now, one’s enough.
Until it’s time to go get another.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
NOTRE DAME 73, GEORGIA TECH 72 (OT)
GEORGIA TECH (72): Franklin 5-7 2-4 12, Howard 1-3 0-0 2, Coleman 2-8 2-2 6, Kelly 3-10 2-2 11, Terry 1-9 2-2 4, Smith 7-12 0-0 16, Sturdivant 7-12 2-2 18, Maxwell 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 27-66 10-12 72.
NOTRE DAME (73): Laszewski 4-8 5-6 14, Goodwin 6-11 6-7 19, Hammond 2-6 1-1 7, Ryan 5-12 0-0 11, Wertz 2-7 0-2 6, Starling 6-12 2-3 16, Campbell 0-3 0-0 0, Zona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 14-19 73.
Halftime: Notre Dame 30-29. 3-Point Goals: Georgia Tech 8-27 (Kelly 3-7, Sturdivant 2-3, Smith 2-4, Maxwell 1-3, Terry 0-4, Coleman 0-6), Notre Dame 9-24 (Starling 2-4, Wertz 2-4, Hammond 2-5, Goodwin 1-3, Laszewski 1-4, Ryan 1-4). Rebounds: Georgia Tech 38 (Franklin 12), Notre Dame 31 (Goodwin 12). Assists: Georgia Tech 14 (Smith 7), Notre Dame 12 (Ryan, Wertz, Starling 3). Total Fouls: Georgia Tech 18, Notre Dame 15. A: 4,502 (9,149).