Slide continues at Georgia Tech as league's last-place team gets right against Notre Dame
That was it.
Wednesday night might have been the last sure thing in terms of Atlantic Coast Conference wins the rest of the way for this Notre Dame men’s basketball team this season. Playing the last-place team, playing a team that had lost nine straight and 11 and 12, playing well enough to win in a place that’s been tough to do so, Notre Dame had its first league road win — its first win away from home overall – in its sights at Georgia Tech.
Another Irish team in another season figures a way to get out of town with that one. Instead, Notre Dame let a six-point lead with seven minutes remaining get away before letting Georgia Tech guard Lance Terry sneak in for a rebound basket to beat the buzzer, and beat the Irish, 70-68.
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Yep, been that type of season for Notre Dame, who fall to 10-14, 2-11 in the ACC. Those two league wins have come against Georgia Tech and Louisville — teams that started the week in 14th and 15th place in the league. Where’s a win the rest of the way? You don’t have to look hard to see a whole lot of losses.
Finishing 2-18 in the ACC this season is a very real possibility, something that’s difficult to wrap your head around for a team that had such high expectations of itself back in the fall. And you thought 3-15 in 2018-19 was the bottom. Look out, below.
Afterward, Irish coach Mike Brey did something he’s never done in his 23 seasons — he let an assistant coach speak at the post-game press conference.
“We had to get a stop there,” said first-year assistant Hamlet Tibbs. “Just came up short. Couldn’t get that rebound there.”
Brey said it the other day after another league home loss — for this Irish team to do anything (i.e. win) it needs some help from the other team to get there. A bad possession here and there, a bad boxout (by the other guys!), or a blown defensive assignment, something that’s going to inject some confidence and some life into a lifeless group of uncertain old guys.
Georgia Tech did it back in South Bend last month. So did Louisville. Notre Dame didn’t so much win those games as the other teams gift-wrapped them. Here you go, here’s a league win. Want it?
Notre Dame’s previous nine visits to midtown Atlanta all resulted in close games. Nine previous games, nine outcomes where the final score was decided by single digits – all of them seven points or fewer. The last four were decided by four, two, four and two points. One possession here or there, and the end game story’s different.
It’s always been competitive; it’s always been close. Wednesday was no different.
Irish freshman power forward Ven-Allen Lubin made his first career start and responded with one of his best games. He scored a career-high 13 points with seven rebounds in 22 minutes while battling foul trouble. That would be the proverbial “something to build on” for the Irish but nobody knows what Lubin’s future is beyond this season. What anyone’s future is beyond this season.
“He was going to be a difference-maker for us in this game,” Tibbs said of Lubin. “We did a really good job when he was in the lineup. He was really effective tonight.”
Fellow freshman J.J. Starling battled the stomach flu and came off the bench for the second time in his career. He played 120 seconds in the second half. Notre Dame did some good stuff, but not enough. The Irish labored the final 7:58 with one field goal. One.
“We had some pretty good looks,” Tibbs said.
All five Irish starters scored double figures.
Notre Dame hasn’t won on the road yet this season, maybe because it doesn’t believe it can win on the road. The Irish have had plenty of chances - up double digits at Boston College and at Syracuse, only to let those go. Everyone talks about how much this team misses the interior presence of Paul Atkinson (and they do) and the all-over-the-court presence of Blake Wesley (and they do), but they also miss the swagger of former point guard Prentiss Hubb.
That Boston College game? That Syracuse game? Wednesday’s game? Those were games where P-Hubb would be at his confident/cocky best. Road crowds didn’t intimidate him. They inspired him. Allowed him to lock in and do his job. Teammates fed off that confidence. He led; they followed.
Now, there’s nothing but followers this season, with nothing but a string of losses that have followed. The Irish remain winless (0-8 overall, 0-6 ACC) away from home this season. They’re on the road a lot (four of seven) the rest of the way.
When word leaked Jan. 19 that this season would be Brey’s last, you didn’t expect Notre Dame to go on this magical run that would salvage this season, and any postseason that might have followed. No, this team was done before the 1-7 league start. Too many missed opportunities. Too many holes. What you did expect was for the Irish to play with a better sense of pride. If not for their outgoing head coach, then for themselves.
Did they really want to go out like this? Maybe they’d run off a win streak here or another win streak there and flirt with something close to a .500 league mark. For the longest time, they kept talking of how there were 18 league games left, then 16, then 14. Yet we never saw what we needed to see - wins.
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Now there’s seven games (eight maybe max) for a group that seems content with playing out the string, getting to spring break and getting on with their lives, wherever that leads them.
The Irish are 1-4 since Brey announced that he’ll bounce at season’s end.
Wednesday was it for Brey in another regard — it was the last time he’ll take a team through midtown Atlanta for a basketball game. Doing so often found Brey stopping at the Varsity restaurant for some French fries while out on his post-shootaround/pre-game walk.
Hope the fries were at least good. The Irish effort to close out the game that night, not so much.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
GEORGIA TECH 70, NOTRE DAME 68
NOTRE DAME (68): Laszewski 5-10 4-4 16, Lubin 6-7 1-2 13, Goodwin 4-9 3-3 14, Hammond 4-9 0-0 10, Ryan 3-13 6-6 13, Wertz 0-2 0-0 0, Starling 1-5 0-0 2, Zona 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-56 14-15 68.
GEORGIA TECH (70): Franklin 6-10 4-5 16, Coleman 3-8 3-3 11, Kelly 2-6 0-0 4, Sturdivant 5-10 0-0 12, Terry 8-15 0-0 19, Smith 3-9 1-2 8, Moore 0-1 0-0 0, Howard 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 27-60 8-12 70.
Halftime: Georgia Tech 38-37. 3-Point Goals: Notre Dame 8-24 (Goodwin 3-5, Laszewski 2-4, Hammond 2-6, Ryan 1-6, Starling 0-1, Wertz 0-2), Georgia Tech 8-21 (Terry 3-6, Coleman 2-5, Sturdivant 2-5, Smith 1-2, Kelly 0-3). Rebounds: Notre Dame 31 (Lubin, Goodwin 7), Georgia Tech 35 (Franklin, Smith 9). Assists: Notre Dame 11 (Goodwin 4), Georgia Tech 15 (Smith 7). Total Fouls: Notre Dame 14, Georgia Tech 14.