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Irish drop fifth-straight in Louisville

| Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Coming off another close-but-no-cigar loss on Monday night to No. 18 Florida State, Notre Dame entered the final week of the NCAA hoops season with the hopes of salvaging some last few positives out from an otherwise disappointing season.

Ultimately, in the 38th meeting between Notre Dame and Louisville, the Irish (13-16, 3-13 ACC) fell to the Cardinals (19-11, 10-7) by a score of 75-61 on the road. Although Louisville ended a three-game losing streak with the win, Notre Dame extended its skid to five losses in a row and 13 of its last 16.

For the Irish, junior forward John Mooney and freshman guard Prentiss Hubb led the way. After nearly securing a double-double before the halftime break, Mooney finished with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 13 rebounds. It was Mooney’s 18th double-double of the season, and his 12th in ACC play this season. Hubb continued shining in his role as Notre Dame’s top playmaker, scoring 16 points to go along with six assists. Junior guard T.J. Gibbs also added 11 points.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Freshman guard Prentiss Hubb drives to the hoop in Purcell Pavilion against Georgia Tech Feb. 10.

After the game, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey had some words regarding the strong defensive effort Louisville had in terms of keeping Gibbs in check.

“I think the guards that they put on him — and he draws the best defender — really got after him, and [took] him away,” Brey said. “ … For the most part, T.J. Gibbs has been first in the scouting report, and they really kind of take him away. … He’s a key for us. When he can get going, it helps us.”

Overall, Notre Dame shot 34.6 percent from deep (9-of-26) and 38.7 percent from the field (24-of-62) while shooting just 28.6 percent from the charity stripe (4-of-14).

The first half was even, as both teams struggled to hit outside shots or get to the foul line, and Louisville took a five-point lead into the break. In the second half, the Cardinals got off to a hot start and never looked back, maintaining at least a four-point lead for the remainder of play.

For Louisville, Jordan Nwora was key in the victory. The sophomore forward, who is averaging 17.2 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season, finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore center Malik Williams added another double-double for the Cardinals, totaling 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 13 rebounds. Graduate student Christen Cunningham added to the well-rounded attack, putting together a solid performance of 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.

One of the more shocking statistics of the game? Louisville cruised to a 14-point victory despite struggling from long, shooting just 2-of-22 (9.1 percent) from behind the 3-point line. The Cardinals are a team whose bread and butter is usually the long ball, and Brey spoke on how the Irish were able to hold them in check from beyond the arc.

“You would think if you handled the arc like that it would be a better game, a closer game. We knew they liked to shoot the three, and they’ve made a bunch of 3s, so we got out to shooters … now you’re more vulnerable around the bucket, but those count too, and they can’t blow you out for the most part,” Brey said.

Brey also went on to mention that he thinks the offense is what needs more work, not necessarily the Irish defense.

“It’s really been our offense all year — we can’t find a third and fourth scorer. We score 61 points all the time … even in practice every day, it’s always 61. We can never get that sucker to 70 — it’s unbelievable,” Brey said.

The most crucial factor in the Irish loss was the Cardinals’ domination on the glass. Notre Dame was out-rebounded 49 to 30 (including 12 offensive rebounds) which created chances for Louisville that resulted in its 46-26 advantage in the paint. The Cardinals also shot 47.6 percent overall for the game.

After the game, Brey noted that as of late, rebounding has been one of his team’s weaknesses.

“Being able to keep people off the offensive board, it’s one of the fears that I’ve had since the beginning of league play … it’s been a weakness and a trait of a younger group all year,” Brey said.

Ultimately, it was the physicality and maturity of Louisville that ended up being too much for Notre Dame. Add in a poor shooting performance from the foul line and it became a losing effort. As Brey has often reiterated throughout the season, despite their struggles, he is proud of how his “great group of kids” have progressed over the course of the year and “rolled with the punches” in a tough league like the ACC.

Looking ahead, the Irish have a chance with another NCAA tournament team in the likes of Clemson on Wednesday night at home in Purcell Pavilion. The game is Senior Night for Notre Dame, and will offer an opportunity for the Irish to close the season out on a high note. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m.

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