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Men’s Basketball

Williamson, Duke too much for Notre Dame

| Tuesday, January 29, 2019

In the 33rd matchup overall between the two storied programs, the No. 2 Blue Devils cruised to an 83-61 victory over the Irish at Purcell Pavilion. With the loss, Notre Dame dropped to 11-10 (1-7 ACC) while Duke improved its overall record to 18-2 (7-1 ACC); the two teams now sit at opposite ends of the Atlantic Coast Conference Standings.

As if college basketball fans haven’t read this phrase already, Duke’s victory was powered by another huge night for freshman phenom Zion Williamson. Williamson finished with 26 points, going 10-of-12 from the field, to go along with nine rebounds and four blocks. Fellow freshmen RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish also added 30 combined points for a Blue Devils team that has now won four in a row after losing in overtime to Syracuse two weeks ago. Against the Irish, Duke’s freshman three-headed monster proved yet again that the hype is real.

Despite being noticeably outmatched, and without a full — or even close to full — team, the Irish played hard for a full 40 minutes on Monday night. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was impressed by the effort that Notre Dame showed his team.

Peter St. John | The Observer
Irish junior guard T.J. Gibbs initiates contact from a defender while driving to the basket during Notre Dame’s 83-61 loss to Duke on Monday at Purcell Pavilion. Gibbs scored 12 points against the Blue Devils.

“For a team that is riddled with injuries … I thought they played us hard the whole game. … I think this is the biggest improvement for them: they didn’t watch a miss, they went after a miss. They had a lot of offensive rebounds, and that kept them in,” Krzyzewski said.

Irish head coach Mike Brey is one of seven former Blue Devil players or assistants under Mike Krzyzewski who is now a Division I head coach. Brey is also the only one out of those former assistants to have ever beaten Coach K and the Blue Devils, having done so five times. After the game, Coach K had some kind words for his former assistant.

“We have a great relationship,” Krzyzewski said. “Mike helped develop our program when he was there. He was an integral part of us winning consecutive national championships, and going to seven final fours in nine years. … Notre Dame has a great program. You have injuries and whatever so there can be a little blip right now, but the values, the hard work, the integrity, all of that is there, and it’s all Mike. … I love him and respect the hell out of him — he’s one of the top coaches.”

Later, as Coach K was asked if he had any advice for Brey now that his team is going through a bit of a rough patch, the veteran Duke coach respondes, “No, no, he knows how to get through it … he’s a pro man.”

In terms of the game itself, the Irish got off to another slow start and trailed 17-2 just six minutes into the first half. From there, the shooting struggles continued, as the Irish finished shooting 34.8 percent from the field (23-66) and 33.3 percent from behind the arc (8-24).

Despite a rough night shooting (just 4-of-15 from the field), junior forward John Mooney recorded his ACC-leading 13th double-double of the season, and his seventh in as many games. Mooney finished the game with 14 points and 11 rebounds, his 15th game with at least 10 rebounds this season. The junior from Orlando, Florida, is poised to become the 10th Notre Dame individual since the 2005-2006 season to improve his scoring by at least 200 points during the junior season. However Mooney did not record his first field goal until hitting a three with 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

Freshman point guard Prentiss Hubb played well for the Irish, recording 13 points, three rebounds and four assists. Junior wing Nikola Djogo also provided the Irish with good minutes off the bench, and thought the squad gave Duke a good fight while gaining valuable experience in the process.

“We competed very well, and If we compete like this on Saturday it’s going to be a good one in our favor. This is a great learning opportunity, and the ability to bounce back which we’ve been doing all year is a key takeaway from tonight’s game,” Djogo said.

Brey was of the same mentality during his postgame press conference.

“Although we’re disappointed we lost, I thought we competed and battled, and we needed to because we weren’t happy with that on Saturday. I told our guys I said I think we had the two best teams in the country roll through our building in the last couple of days, I like how we competed against this one tonight,” Brey said.

Brey also went on to praise Duke’s performance and its extremely talented freshman class.

“Give Duke credit, I don’t know if I’ve seen individual gifted talent like that come through our building at multiple spots, they’re really gifted,” Brey said. “We stuck our nose in there, and that’s what I wanted to see. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to beat them, but maybe that’s something we can build on this week.”

The Irish will have a day off and a few days of practice before heading on the road to take on Boston College in another ACC matchup. But, this time, the Irish won’t be suiting up just six players. Brey made clear after the game that forward junior Juwan Durham, the 6-foot-11 junior out of Tampa, Florida, who was leading the ACC in blocks per game at 3.20 before going down with a ankle injury, will be returning to practice this week. With a quality field goal percentage and an imposing defensive presence, Durham’s return will be a much-needed boost for the Irish defense and overall depth, and Brey believes a smoother road lies ahead for his squad after losing five-straight and seven of their last eight games against brutal slate of opponents.

“Our January schedule we did play the top of the league, we did run through some men … everything is going to be hard for us, but I don’t know if we’ve ever played a stretch like we’ve played, of ranked teams in league play. This is the league we signed up for, and it’s amazing,” Brey said.

While Notre Dame’s final 10 opponents are a combined 20 games under-500 in conference play, Brey and the Irish know they still have a chance to turn the season around. The Irish begin the back end of ACC play by facing the Eagles this Saturday at 2 p.m.

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