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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame prepares to host No. 20 Virginia Tech

| Friday, February 22, 2019

Notre Dame will look to get its first win over a ranked team this season when it plays host to No. 20 Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon. The Irish last faced the Hokies on New Year’s Day to open ACC play, with Virginia Tech securing an 81-66 victory in Blacksburg, Va.

After a close loss to No. 3 Virginia last Saturday, Notre Dame faced off against Wake Forest this past Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion. Despite a strong effort by a number of players, the Irish (13-13, 3-10 ACC) fell short 75-68. Leading the scoring was junior guard T.J. Gibbs, who finished with a season-high 23 points on the night. Strong contributions also came from junior forward John Mooney and freshman guard Prentiss Hubb, as Mooney added 16 points, while Hubb posted 11 points and a career-high nine assists. The two teams were neck and neck for most of the game, but inconsistent shooting hurt the Irish — an Achilles heel — and the Demon Deacons were able to pull away with a late lead in the second half.

Allison Thorton | The Observer

Irish junior guard T.J. Gibbs dribbles and looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 75-68 loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

Irish head coach Mike Brey noted how tough this loss was on his team, but he believes he has a group of players who can bounce back as they close out the season.

“[The team] is pretty resilient, and they can take a lot of punches. Now they’re really down and there’s no question about that. I think we thought we could move forward, because we did some good stuff last week with the [Georgia Tech] win and how we played Virginia,” Brey said postgame. “But young people and college players are so resilient. They’ll come in the next day and we’ll look at some stuff we didn’t do well.”

Looking forward to this weekend’s matchup, the Irish will certainly have a tall task against the Hokies (20-6, 9-5 ACC), and the road does not get any smoother beyond it, as Notre Dame will head to Tallahassee, Fla, on Monday for a matchup against No. 16 Florida State. Given the down year for the program, Brey is unsure what a strong run to close out this season will look like, but he is excited for his team to get the opportunity to compete against some strong teams down the stretch.

“I think for us, we live day to day with this team and say, ‘here’s what we’re going to work on today’ and ‘here’s what we’re going to try today,’” Brey said postgame. “The one thing is we haven’t beaten anyone in the upper division yet, and we’ve got a couple of them coming. We need to see if this team can get one of those, and we’ve got two in a row obviously, one in a really tough place. That’s one of the things I’ll talk to them about. An opportunity to beat an upper division team, and let’s see how you feel if you can get that done. We’re going to have to be tougher and smarter and have some more guys join our guards right now to do that.”

While the Irish have gotten some serious production out of players like Mooney, who is now one of six players in the nation to average a double-double on the year, they have a lot of youth, and Brey recognizes that it has been difficult to get consistent play from some of those younger guys. As Notre Dame moves forward to Saturday and through the rest of the year, Brey is hoping to see his freshman settle in with nearly a full year under their belt.

”There’s no question that we’ve given them a lot of opportunity and we’ve given them a lot of minutes. We want them to be more effective and more efficient, and they’re really hard on themselves,” Brey said. “But they’re still going to get minutes, and for us to have some success before the end of it, they have to play like they’ve gotten a lot of experience.”

Notre Dame looks to spring an upset against Virginia Tech and get on a run before the season comes to a close. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

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