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Men’s Basketball

Duke uses 18-0 second half run to rout Notre Dame

| Tuesday, January 30, 2018

“Again, it’s just kind of the same story.”

For 28 minutes of Monday night’s game, John Mooney was right.

In its previous five games, Notre Dame had played without some combination of three key rotational players. In its previous five games, it had been within three points of an ACC foe entering the final three minutes of play. In its five previous games, it walked away with a loss.

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish sophomore forward John Mooney fights for the ball during Notre Dame’s 80-75 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

For 28 minutes of Monday night’s game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Irish (13-9, 3-6 ACC) were right there against the fourth-ranked Blue Devils.

After a first half in which the margin never grew larger than 10, Notre Dame found itself trailing just 42-37 after beginning the half with a steal by the sophomore forward Mooney and a 3 from junior guard Rex Pflueger.

However, an 8-0 run by Duke (19-3, 7-3 ACC) over the next minute saw the Irish back on its heels, requiring a timeout to stop the bleeding at 50-37.

But then the Irish surged back.

Sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs hit a 3. Senior forward Martinas Geben answered a Duke jumper with one of his own. Gibbs hit two free throws, Mooney slammed one home after a Gibbs steal and Gibbs added two more from the line.

Suddenly, the Irish had pulled to within six points at 58-52 with 12:21 remaining, and it looked to be the same story.

Until it wasn’t.

Over the next nine minutes, Duke would outscore Notre Dame 28-9 — fueled by an 18-0 run in the middle of it — and Notre Dame found itself far from within three within three minutes to go.

Instead, Notre Dame trailed by 25 and would battle for a few more points over the game’s closing minutes until the final buzzer rang and the score settled at 88-66.

Different story, but same result.

“Well, we hung for about 28 minutes, but they eventually wore us down,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said after the loss. “They’re so gifted offensively, and that run was amazing. I’m proud of our group — we’re still trying and scratching and clawing and trying to figure it out, but they were really good tonight. That offensive run they had in the second half just kind of broke our back.”

In the first half, the Irish shot just 30.6 percent from the floor and were 4-for-15 from beyond the arc. After 19 seconds of scoreless action, the Irish spent 1,172 seconds of the half trailing while leading for just nine.

Yet, they never found themselves trailing by more than 10 in the half. The defense forced seven Blue Devils turnovers and held Duke’s star freshman Marvin Bagley III to four points on 1-for-7 shooting. Offensively, Mooney had a team-high 12 points and all four of Notre Dame’s 3s in the period, while Gibbs added 11 points of his own to keep the Irish within striking distance.

“They really were great,” Brey said of Mooney and Gibbs. “For Johnny Mooney in this atmosphere, he’s really growing as a player. T.J., again, just doing his thing.”

And after another eight minutes of back and forth action that saw them within six to open the second half, the Irish finally broke. After scrapping and clawing its way into games to compete until the very end, Notre Dame watched Duke hit five 3s during its game-sealing run, while the Irish — who trailed for all 20 minutes of the half — went scoreless for over six minutes and sparked the Blue Devils with multiple turnovers that turned into easy points at the other end.

“It’s definitely tough,” Mooney said. “You can’t turn the ball over on a team like that or they’ll make you pay, and that’s what they did tonight. They’re a great team with shooters everywhere, so yeah, you’ve just got to be better in these next nine games.”

Beyond Mooney, who finished with 14 points before fouling out in the second half, and Gibbs, who led the way with 22 points, the Irish struggled to get production from the rest of its seven-man rotation. The other five players combined for 30 points, shooting just 11-for-36 from the floor and 2-for-13 from 3 while turning the ball over seven times. However, Brey said he thought the group has played well considering the lack of experience it had prior to the last few games, and he hopes that experience will pay off down the stretch of the season.

“All seven of these guys, they’re doing everything we ask them to do,” Brey said. “You’ve got some guys growing up, and hopefully that helps you in — people say, ‘It will help you for next year.’ I don’t want to go there yet. We still got some basketball to play, how about helping us for February?”

Now sitting at 3-6 in ACC play and, according to the latest NCAA bracketology updates, sitting in the “Next Four Out” group, Notre Dame will have five days to prepare for the first game of the second half of its conference slate, a matchup with North Carolina State in Raleigh, North Carolina. While there is a chance they could get freshman wing D.J. Harvey or senior guard Matt Farrell back from injuries, the Irish are prepared to move forward with the same group it has played with of late.

“I love our group, man,” Brey said. “We’re trying to figure this thing out. Maybe we’ll have a few bodies back for N.C. State when we come back down this way on Saturday. We could use a couple more bodies back.

“But now you’ve got the back nine of the league. We were 3-6 on the front nine, we’re going to have to do a little bit on the back nine of the league, and we’ll see if we can.”

And that back nine will start Saturday at PNC Arena, with the Irish and Wolfpack scheduled to tip off at noon.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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