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Men’s Basketball

Clemson hands Notre Dame its fourth-straight loss

| Monday, January 22, 2018

Offensive struggles hindered the injury-plagued Irish as they fell to No. 20 Clemson 67-58 for their fourth consecutive loss.

After losing freshman D.J. Harvey for the foreseeable future with a bone bruise in Tuesday night’s double-overtime loss to Louisville, and with senior Bonzie Colson still out from a fractured foot, Notre Dame (13-7, 3-4 ACC) struggled to start well, going down 5-0 to start the game. A layup from senior forward Martinas Geben finally put the Irish on the board two minutes into the first half, but the layup didn’t end Notre Dame’s offensive troubles, as the Tigers (16-3, 5-2 ACC) hit their first seven shots of the game to jump out to a 17-8 lead.

Michelle Mehelas | The Observer
Irish sophomore forward John Mooney shoots a jumper during Notre Dame’s 69-68 loss to North Carolina on Jan. 13 at Purcell Pavilion.

But the Irish finally found an offensive rhythm through an unlikely source. Sophomore forward John Mooney came off the bench and provided the necessary spark for the Irish, single handedly scoring all eight points during an 8-0 run by the Irish to cut the deficit to 24-20. As the game drew towards halftime, the Irish continued to chip away, shortening the gap to 31-30 with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, before Clemson hit two free throws to send Mike Brey and Co. to the locker room down three.

The second half was a back and forth battle between the two teams, with Notre Dame fighting every possession to remain in the game. Although Clemson once again jumped out to an early advantage, the Irish hung around and cut the lead to 47-46 with just under 10 minutes left. But the Tigers once again pushed the lead back up to 59-50 with 3:18 left. Notre Dame answered with back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore T.J. Gibbs and Mooney to once again put the Irish in a one possession game, 59-56, but missed jumpers from the Irish and made free throws from the Tigers would seal the game.

Gibbs lead all scorers for the Irish with 18 points and four rebounds. After 10 first-half points, Mooney finished the game with a career-high 13 points and seven rebounds.

After the game, Brey applauded the Tigers’ ability to make big shots down the stretch.

“Give credit to Clemson, I thought they made big shots and big plays in a good game,” he said. “I loved our fight we kept trying to come back and make it interesting, and we did. [Freshman Aamir] Simms in the corner there was a backbreaker.”

The Tigers focused heavily on senior point guard Matt Farrell, who constantly drew a double team and was held scoreless in the first half by the Tigers. Junior guard Rex Pflueger also struggled offensively, going 1-of-6 from the 3-point line. Farrell and Pflueger combined for 11 points on 4-of-21 shooting.

Despite their lack of scoring, the Irish did out rebound the Tigers 38-32, a facet that Brey thought kept the team in the game.

“Defensively we’re doing the job and rebounding the ball. We’ve done that because it’s out of survival,” he said. “We just can’t score enough and find an offensive rhythm to beat good teams. We [have] to get second chances, we’re not as good as a ‘first shot-making team’ as we’ve been historically, so rotating the big guys and telling them to climb the back board and get second shots is helping us and giving us other possessions.”

Despite falling to a 3-4 record in ACC play, Brey isn’t discouraged. “There is plenty of basketball left to play in the coming weeks,” he said. “… [We have] an older group I think they will continue to come out and do their thing. I would be disappointed if we changed that … It doesn’t get any easier in this league.”

The Irish will have the opportunity to regroup as they enter a much-needed bye week, where Brey hopes to rest his team before their next ACC matchup with Virginia Tech.

“Our group is a little wounded we have to keep trying to scratch and claw, we have a bye week right now. Hopefully that gives us a chance to get Matt Farrell 100 percent and in better shape, rest some guys and get back into a practice routine,” Brey said.

The Irish will be hoping to get back to the .500 mark in ACC play when they square off with the Hokies, Saturday at 8 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

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