Even Mike Brey's announcement that he's done at season's end can't get Irish going
SOUTH BEND − Well, that one was weird.
Everything about it, just ... different.
There have been some odd afternoons, some long afternoons, some tough afternoons for Notre Dame men’s basketball inside Purcell Pavilion over the 23 seasons under coach Mike Brey. Afternoons when the Irish had games get away from them because they couldn’t make a play here or a shot there, or when the other team was just better.
Afternoons when a loss — especially a league loss — cuts deep.
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Then there was Saturday.
On the heels of Brey’s announcement a day earlier that he would walk away from the program when this season goes final, Notre Dame was back on the basketball court looking to snap its two-game league losing streak, a slide that also included losses in five of the last six. Boston College was in town, and when it came time to get right for so long in the ACC, it always was good to see Boston College.
Not anymore. Certainly not this season. In a game that featured four ties and eight lead changes, a game when Notre Dame led by as many as nine and trailed by as many as 14, the Eagles just kind of snatched it in the closing minutes (10-1 run to end it), just as they did when they met 18 days earlier, which resulted in an 84-72 Irish loss.
A season high for points allowed to a team that was 14th — second to last — in scoring offense. Of course. Just when it can’t get worse for Notre Dame, it does.
As the final seconds ran down and the crowded headed for the exits and for home, it was the silence, the stillness of everything that was so striking. Nobody really cheered the Eagles, who had a solid section of fans behind their bench. Nobody in the arena booed another Irish loss. Or the head coach. A resignation (in more ways than one) about everything Notre Dame as it dropped a season series to Boston College for the first time since 1997.
With Brey set to bounce, it’s beyond time to lay all this losing on his veterans. Honestly, though, what's the point? This season got away from them long ago — if they ever had a firm grasp of it to begin — so hammering them for yet another league loss at home (1-4), really, why?
It wouldn’t help. Nothing has. Notre Dame continues to throw everything it can possibly throw against the wall/backboard — starting lineup changes, rotation changes, even Brey walking away. Nothing works. Worse, nobody can say for sure why it keeps happening or when it can get better. The players keep saying it will. Watch, they insist.
Last time we heard that rhetoric, in 2018-19, Notre Dame went 3-15 in the ACC. Can this group win two more league games? Please?
Brey has owned the current Irish record (9-11 overall; 1-8 ACC) and owned the losing and owned the failed season. At what point do the players do the same? They haven’t done enough to win. Maybe because they’re not good enough. Maybe because they don’t believe. Maybe it’s just a bad mix of guys who thought they’d be good together but are only better apart.
“We’re working on it,” said guard Cormac Ryan. “That is challenging for a group of young guys to do that.”
True, It is. But this isn’t a young group. It’s about as old as you can be in college basketball.
How Notre Dame even got up for this one is up to anyone to decipher. How do you play a game less than 48 hours after your coach, the guy who gave you a chance, the guy who believed in you to play at this level, the guy whose lead you follow every single day for six months through a regular season, stands in front of you over at Rolfs Hall and tells you that this season is his last?
Oh, and go beat Boston College.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult; I thought we had a couple great days of practice this week,” Ryan said. “There’s a lot kind of weighing on the group, just the inevitable fact that we are where we are.
“That is a tough thing for any human being to do — persevere through adversity, especially when you had expectations that might not have gone the way you wanted them to. We have no plan going out without swinging.”
It’s been too many swings and misses that’s doomed this group and this season and this head coach.
Brey looked like a weight had lifted from his oft-slumped shoulders the previous day. He then bounced/jogged from the locker room just before tip. No reason to be tight, now. Just go play. And the Irish did.
They were good for stretches in building that nine-point lead, in finding Nate Laszewski, who broke loose for a career high 29 points, in riding that wave of belief that just maybe, a storybook kind of end was building. How cool would it be to run off 11 straight wins to end the season?
Then, Boston College got going. Like really going. The worst shooting 3-point team in the league (.275), the Eagles shot 57.9 percent from the arc. They finished with 11 3s. They made tough ones, open ones, contested ones, end-of-clock ones. A lot of that was the irrational confidence that other teams seem to carry into contests against Notre Dame in buckets.
Some of it was Notre Dame again being indifferent on defense. Some of it also is it’s been that type of season, that type of lack of effort from Notre Dame. Teams are going to take tough shots; teams are going to make tough shots.
Who coaches this Irish perimeter defense anyway? Certainly not the same quiet/stare-you-down assistant who cared so much about defense last season. Where's the care there?
A toughness, in every department, seems to again be lacking for Notre Dame, but the Irish insist it’s not from a lack of effort. They’re going to keep trying and keep swinging as Ryan said, but in the end, it’s not been good enough.
“What an educational experience for young people,” Brey said. “There ain’t no class, there’s no class that they ever took at Notre Dame that can have them figure out, ooof, boy, we are working out of it and can we still stay together and do it together?”
Will it get any better going forward? Does it matter? Brey’s already said this is it for him. It will be it for Laszewski and fellow super seniors Dane Goodwin and Marcus Hammond and Trey Wertz. It likely will be it for Ryan, who could return for a sixth year.
After how everything unfolded earlier in the week, what’s it all mean? Nothing? Everything? Something? Notre Dame wins, great. Notre Dame loses, big deal. Another loss in a lost season. The coach will be gone, the core will be gone.
This program with that lame-duck core and that lame-duck roster seems resigned to count down the games and the days and the weeks before it all ends. Early March can’t come soon enough.
Maybe then, so will some normalcy.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
∎ BOSTON COLLEGE 84, NOTRE DAME 72
BOSTON COLLEGE (84): Post 10-14 5-5 29, Ashton-Langford 6-14 4-4 20, Langford 4-6 2-2 10, Zackery 1-3 2-2 4, Aligbe 1-3 2-4 5, Madsen 3-6 0-0 8, Bickerstaff 3-3 0-0 6, McGlockton 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 29-51 15-17 84.
NOTRE DAME (72): Laszewski 8-11 6-6 29, Goodwin 5-13 2-4 13, Hammond 2-6 2-4 7, Ryan 4-10 2-4 13, Starling 1-5 1-2 3, Wertz 0-3 0-0 0, Lubin 3-5 1-2 7, Zona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 14-22 72.
Halftime: Boston College 36-35. 3-Point Goals: Boston College 11-19 (Post 4-5, Ashton-Langford 4-8, Madsen 2-4, Aligbe 1-1, Zackery 0-1), Notre Dame 12-31 (Laszewski 7-9, Ryan 3-7, Hammond 1-4, Goodwin 1-6, Wertz 0-2, Starling 0-3). Fouled Out: Zackery. Rebounds: Boston College 29 (Post 14), Notre Dame 25 (Laszewski 7). Assists: Boston College 20 (Ashton-Langford 7), Notre Dame 13 (Ryan 4). Total Fouls: Boston College 20, Notre Dame 14. A_6,068 (9,149).