Noie: Apparently one-game league win streaks the best it can get for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Yet another reason — nos. 1,016 or 1,101 or 1,222 — of why this men’s college basketball season cannot end soon enough for Notre Dame arrived Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion. 

Looking to build on a week away from game action and win consecutive contests for the first time since opening November with five straight victories, Notre Dame didn’t have enough of anything/everything against a Wake Forest team that arrived seemingly shaky and uncertain, then swiped an 81-64 decision that dropped the Irish to 10-13 overall, 2-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

Wait, check that. To say Notre Dame didn’t have it wouldn’t exactly be true. For a few minutes in the first half, the Irish had something. They ran off 13 unanswered points in a 3:32 burst. They watched Wake Forest (15-9; 7-6) miss eight of its first 10. They forced seven turnovers the first 8:16. They jumped to a 16-4 lead against a Demon Deacon team that had lost four straight, including each of the last three by two points. 

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They were good. Then they weren’t. 

As has been the case so often in this lost season, one that will see head coach Mike Brey step away after 23 years whenever it ends next month, likely in Greensboro, North Carolina at the league tournament, the other team hit another gear and started doing stuff that winning teams so often and so easily do. 

The Irish then did what teams playing out the string do. Compete, but only kind of. They again made it all — scoring, shooting, believing — look hard.  

Notre Dame's JJ Starling (1) passes as Wake Forest's Cameron Hildreth (2) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday Feb. 4, 2023, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Caterina)

A Notre Dame team fragile in too many ways to mention, a team that needs everything to go right to have a chance, a team that hasn’t won a league game without the other guys doing a lot wrong, cannot hang with a Wake Forest and a whole lot of others still on the schedule. Notre Dame went from up 12 (16-4) to down 12 (44-32) in a span of 17 game minutes.

Wake really went to work in the opening four minutes of the second half when it made its first five shots, including its first four 3s. As has been the case so often in league play, the Irish had no answer.

In previous league games, that meant allowing teams to gash them time and again on drives to the basket and looks at the rim, where they would finish with 30 or 40 or 50 points in the paint. Wake Forest didn’t get there that often. It didn’t need to. A team that couldn’t do much from the perimeter early got confident, then got cocky and just kept on shooting and making shots from deeper and deeper and deeper. 

Notre Dame allowed twice as many points in the second half (54) as it did in the first (27). 

“We let guys get going early,” said Irish guard Cormac Ryan. “We’re all basketball players. We all know the feeling of when you’re hot. It’s hard to stop you. Guys got hot in here.” 

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This was a game billed by Brey earlier in the week as a one where the Irish had to score to survive. The Irish didn’t survive because they couldn’t score. Haven’t been able to do it all year, against almost anybody. For so long under Brey, getting to 80 points was so routine that the five on the floor barely broke a sweat. Now, it’s just a rumor, a cruel reminder of the good old days, maybe gone for good. 

This group didn’t score at least 75 points for the 10th time in 12 conference games and 18th time in 23 games overall. This group can talk all it wants about being an offensive outfit, but it just can’t be one. Too many missed shots. Too many missed opportunities. Too many misses period. Layups. Mid-range jumpers. Corner 3s. Especially those corner 3s. 

If there's one snapshot to this season for Notre Dame, it's the missed corner 3.

“We had some looks that you kind of have to make to stay with them,” Brey said. “You kind of have to shoot with that team and score with to win. We really couldn’t do that.” 

That’s why this season has gone the way it’s gone. A lot of losses. A lot of letdown at home. A lot of bad basketball. Too many guys who miss too many shots at critical times. Not the other guys. Wake Forest swingman Damari Monsanto had no trouble getting confident. He scored a career high 28 points, including eight of 13 from 3. Might as well just hand him ACC player of the week honors right then and there. No reason to vote come Monday morning. 

Monsanto made twice as many 3s (eight) as Notre Dame (four). The Irish missed their first 10 before Marcus Hammond finally banged one down with 13:53 remaining in the second half. By that time Wake was rolling, up 10 on the way to a lead that would balloon to as much as 17. 

There have been too many times at home this season when Notre Dame has had its collective life sapped from their basketball souls. In December against Marquette. In January against Florida State. Then again Saturday, which seemed more like resigned acceptance of everything that this season has been — the disappointments, the defeats, everything. 

“It’s really fragile for us,” Brey said.  

Notre Dame lost one home league game all of last year. One. Saturday was the fifth time an ACC team has left Purcell Pavilion with a win. Why has this season gone so sideways, there’s one big reason. Maybe the reason. 

We saw some more of them Saturday — no counter to being punched, no consistent shot-making, no added fight when the game got tight. It just seems this is a group that’s playing out the string, waiting for the inevitable end when they’ll seemingly be happy that it’s all over. 

“We,” said super senior Nate Laszewski, “just want to win games in the end.” 

As the end of the season — and the end for Brey — nears, so begins what likely will be a steady stream of former Irish finding their way back to campus. On Saturday, former guards Eric Atkins and Demetrius Jackson were in the first row of floor seats across from the Irish bench. Jackson has a townhouse nearby while Atkins, now an assistant coach with the G League’s Wisconsin Herd, drove through the overnight hours of Saturday morning to see his former coach. 

“It was neat to see those two guys,” Brey said. “I wish we could’ve played better for them.” 

Maybe next year, for the next coach. 


WAKE FOREST (81): Carr 2-5 1-2 5, Appleby 4-13 6-6 16, Hildreth 4-8 0-1 8, Monsanto 9-15 2-2 28, Williamson 2-6 0-0 6, Klintman 4-4 0-0 10, Marsh 4-4 0-0 8, Bradford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 9-11 81. 

NOTRE DAME (64): Laszewski 7-15 2-2 18, Goodwin 2-12 1-1 6, Hammond 4-12 1-1 10, Ryan 5-13 2-3 12, Starling 4-9 0-1 8, Wertz 3-6 0-0 6, Zona 2-4 0-0 4, Sanders 0-0 0-2 0, Wade 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-71 6-10 64. 

Halftime: Wake Forest 27-26. 3-Point Goals: Wake Forest 14-30 (Monsanto 8-13, Klintman 2-2, Appleby 2-6, Williamson 2-6, Hildreth 0-1, Carr 0-2), Notre Dame 4-21 (Laszewski 2-9, Hammond 1-3, Goodwin 1-4, Starling 0-1, Wertz 0-1, Ryan 0-3). Rebounds: Wake Forest 39 (Appleby 9), Notre Dame 30 (Laszewski, Goodwin 7). Assists: Wake Forest 14 (Appleby 7), Notre Dame 10 (Wertz 4). Total Fouls: Wake Forest 15, Notre Dame 12. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.