Another swing and a miss for Notre Dame in this lost ACC men's basketball season
At least they didn’t quit.
That has to count for something at this point, doesn’t it?
In a season going nowhere and playing for a head coach who’s going elsewhere, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team had every excuse to give in and give up Tuesday at North Carolina State.
Three days earlier after their latest Atlantic Coast Conference home loss, Irish guard Cormac Ryan vowed that no matter what happens the rest of the way, he and his teammates were going to keep swinging. They weren’t going down not swinging.
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It was another night of that — Notre Dame battling back from an 11-point deficit in the first half and nearly scrambling out of a nine-point hole in the second. But those punches that Ryan insisted he and the Irish would keep throwing kept missing.
A roundhouse right.
A left-handed jab.
Nothing but air.
One connected, but it was the Irish who again took it on the chin.
In a game that so many previous Notre Dame teams would have found a way to figure out and, in the words of outgoing head coach Mike Brey “steal one” on the road, this group can’t figure it out. Not at home. Not on the road. Not in league play. Not again. Not even after the Irish shot 51.9 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from 3 and 81 percent from the foul line. On the road.
None of it enough.
Notre Dame fell to 1-9 midway through ACC play and 9-12 overall following an 85-82 loss to North Carolina State, which improved to 11-1 at home. Don’t be fooled by the final score. Usually, when the Irish got to 80 in seasons past, it meant that they walked away on the right side of the scoreboard. That they made it look easy.
This was a hard 82.
“We’re searching, man,” Brey said. “We competed and we gave ourselves a chance against a good team in a tough atmosphere. We’re going to play it out.”
One game after Notre Dame allowed a season high for points back at home against Boston College, North Carolina State did it one better. No offense, but the defense stinks.
Only a Dane Goodwin corner 3 at the horn — hey, look, a 3-pointer in the closing minutes finally fell for Notre Dame — got the Irish over 80. For much of the second half, even after leading by as many as seven following a patented 26-8 scoring burst, the Irish had scrambled to try and get back to break-even. Following the opening two-plus minutes of the final 20, they never again led.
It was scramble mode against the Wolfpack, with their quick hands on defense and quicker shot-makers, who decided they just didn’t want to be caught.
Now 0-2 since he announced Friday that he was leaving at season’s end after 23 of them, Brey said following Saturday’s lopsided loss to Boston College that his team needed a little luck to finally win a league game. The other team was going to have to do something wrong at the right time for Notre Dame to get one.
North Carolina State never did enough wrong. Not after letting seemingly secure leads slip away in both halves. Not after the Irish got within one on a Ryan 3 with five minutes to play. Not at any time down the stretch, which again hinged on game situations.
The Irish have been in plenty of those in league play. Other than the Georgia Tech game, which required overtime, they haven’t gotten any of them.
“This has kind of been our M.O.," Brey said. "We get punched, come back but can’t close it.”
Close, but not close enough. Good, but not good enough. Following a season-high fourth straight loss, after a loss for the seventh time in the last eight games and 10th of the last 11, a victory of the moral variety is about all Notre Dame can claim as it headed home from its second trip of four to North Carolina in the regular season.
In the coming weeks, whenever this season ends, Brey will pack up his stuff and move out of Rolfs Hall and move on to the next phase of his life, whether or not that includes basketball in any way, shape or coaching form. When he goes, he’ll snag the sign that hangs in the players lounge, the one that says something to the effect of take care of the basketball, go to class, and we’ll get along just fine.
Notre Dame forget to do anything that resembled anything close to taking care of the ball. The Irish made enough shots and probably got enough stops to put itself in a position to win this one, but it had to value the ball better.
That’s been the theme with this team all season. Funny, because when we first got a glimpse of these guys in the summer, back when everything about this year still held out so much hope and promise, Brey had waxed poetic about how this group, maybe even more than last year’s, played the right way. That’s been his coach speak for valuing the basketball.
Fooled us. Again.
“The athletic ability and how they come after you defensively,” Brey said, “it wears on you.”
Notre Dame committed 15 turnovers, two shy of its season high. Each time it needed a good offensive possession, it kicked it around. Heck, it couldn’t even convert a simple two-on-one break in the second half because guard Trey Wertz, in his effort to get it to Ryan, wound up throwing it to, well, nobody’s quite sure where the ball went, except out of bounds and back to the Wolfpack.
Story of this game. Story of this team. Story of this season.
As poorly as the Irish were with the ball, all they needed to do was put it in the basket from distance one time after a defensive stop over the final 3:20. That really would’ve made it interesting. A stop, a shot, and some game pressure on North Carlina State. But the shots never did drop. Not from Goodwin. Not from Nate Laszewski. Not from anyone. In the end, another pretty decent 40 minutes wasted.
Time to again pack up, head for home at 0-5 on the road in league play and 0-7 overall, then try it again back in snowy South Bend. Louisville visits Saturday still in search of its first league win with last place in the league on the line.
Don’t say it. Don’t even think it.
It can’t happen, can it?
As we’ve seen from this Notre Dame team anything can happen. And has.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE 85, NOTRE DAME 82
NOTRE DAME (82): Laszewski 2-7 2-4 7, Goodwin 4-8 0-0 11, Hammond 4-7 3-5 11, Ryan 6-8 2-2 19, Starling 7-14 4-4 18, Lubin 4-8 2-2 10, Wertz 1-2 4-4 6. Totals 28-54 17-21 82.
NC STATE (85): Burns 7-15 0-0 14, Gantt 0-1 0-0 0, Joiner 9-18 8-8 28, Morsell 4-10 1-2 11, Smith 2-14 11-13 17, Dowuona 3-4 1-1 7, Ross 3-6 0-1 6, Pass 0-0 2-2 2, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-68 23-27 85.
Halftime: Notre Dame 42-39. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 9-21 (Ryan 5-6, Goodwin 3-5, Laszewski 1-6, Hammond 0-1, Wertz 0-1, Starling 0-2), NC State 6-20 (Joiner 2-5, Morsell 2-6, Smith 2-9). Rebounds: Notre Dame 38 (Hammond 10), NC State 27 (Joiner 6). Assists: Notre Dame 12 (Hammond 4), NC State 13 (Smith 6). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 18, NC State 19.