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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame drops fifth-straight game in conference play

| Monday, January 29, 2018

Although the Irish battled on Saturday night, Notre Dame and its injury-weakened lineup ultimately fell to Virginia Tech 85-75 at home to fall to 3-5 in the ACC.

The Irish (13-8, 3-5 ACC) headed into Saturday’s matchup with only seven scholarship players after a lingering bone-bruise ruled out senior guard Matt Farrell indefinitely. Throughout the losing skid, head coach Mike Brey has stressed resiliency through hanging around in games and mounting comebacks, but early offensive droughts and failure to hit big shots down the stretch have failed to translate into wins. The matchup against the Hokies (15-6, 4-4 ACC) was no exception.

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs sets up for a shot during Notre Dame’s 80-75 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Without a relief guard at their disposal, Notre Dame came out in a conservative 2-3 zone that the Virginia Tech quickly torched with multiple 3-pointers, aiding an 14-2 run that saw the Irish down 19-9 seven minutes into first half.

But Notre Dame battled back, and half-court buzzer-beater by sophomore T.J. Gibbs would cut a 10-point Hokies lead to single digits as the Irish trailed 34-27 at the half.

Although the Irish out-rebounded the Hokies 23-15 in the first half, the difference maker early was Virginia Tech’s ability to get good shots, as the Hokies shot 44.8 percent (13-of-29) from the field. The Irish struggled from the field only managing to shoot 26.7 percent (8-for-30) from the field in the first half.

In the second half, Brey abandoned the 2-3 zone and went man-to-man defense that was very effective in keeping the Hokies off the 3-point line.

But Virginia Tech took advantage of Notre Dame’s lack of bench depth and continued to maintain control of the game, pushing the lead to 62-47, the largest margin of the night with 11:27 remaining in the game.

While junior guard Rex Pflueger exited the game with an injury, his stint in the locker room was a short one as he returned for the Irish and helped spark a 13-3 run that cut the lead to 65-60 with 7:30 left to play.

Gibbs applauded Pflueger’s gritty return to the game.

“He took a hard fall. He came back like superman,” he said. “He was bleeding, but he was giving it all that he had. We were able to feed off of that.”

The Irish would manage to keep the game close at 74-72 with 1:34 remaining, but the two-point deficit would be the closest the Irish could get as the Irish missed several layups down the stretch and found themselves trailing 78-72 with 16 seconds left.

A turnover by Gibbs and an emphatic dunk by Virginia Tech sealed the game. Pflueger nailed a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little, too late as the Irish once again failed to turn around the losing streak.

Despite their fifth-consecutive loss, both Gibbs and sophomore John Mooney had career nights for the Irish. Gibbs scored a career-high 27 points, with 19 coming in the second half. Mooney recorded his first career double-double for the Irish with 15 points and 11 rebounds, a career high.

After failing to an uncharacteristic 3-5 in ACC play, Gibbs insist that the team is not panicking, and they have faith they can turn it around.

“We just need to keep battling. We’re not worried about the loss right now. We’re going to get out of this funk, and once we do, we’re going to start rolling again,” Gibbs said.

Brey agreed with him and believes if his team continues to “empty the tank,” good things will start to happen.

“If we keep doing that it will turn for us. We have a great opportunity on Monday to turn the page quickly. The sympathy stuff we’re way past that.”

The Irish’s search for their next win won’t get any easier as Mike Brey and company travel to Durham, North Carolina to face No. 4 Duke, who are also looking to bounce back from a loss after losing to No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.

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