Irish to honor Tripucka, pursue second ACC home win
Hayden Adams | Friday, January 31, 2020
The Notre Dame men’s basketball team will look to record back-to-back ACC wins for the first time since Feb. 28, 2018, when they defeated Wake Forest behind a go-ahead three from Matt Farrell and Pittsburgh on senior night amid Bonzie Colson’s return from a broken foot.
The Irish (12-8, 3-6 ACC) just recorded a win over Wake Forest, the last place team in the ACC, to record their first conference home win of the season. Head coach Mike Brey briefly celebrated the win in his post-game press conference and the way his team battled back after trailing by five at the half.
“Got one at home, and I love how, when they made a run at us there, we called timeout and finished it off,” Brey said. “I thought our defense was better in the second half. We scored 54, you know, we can get in an offensive rhythm, and we scored enough to get out of there. We needed it.”
Defeating the Demon Deacons (9-11, 2-8 ACC) allowed the Irish to match their conference win total from a year ago when they went 3-15 in the ACC. Two of those wins came over Boston College, while the third and final regular season victory came in a home victory over Georgia Tech, Notre Dame’s next opponent.
“See if we can sweep Georgia Tech — that’ll be a challenge — and win another one at home,” he Brey. “And [senior forward] Johnny [Mooney] said that as soon as we came in the locker room, ‘Let’s see if we can put two in a row together in our building.’”
In the previous matchup in Atlanta, the Irish got just their second win over Georgia Tech on the road in program history, improving Brey’s career record against the Yellowjackets (10-11, 4-6 ACC) to 9-6, with the six losses coming by a combined 18 points.
The Irish were able to topple Georgia Tech behind a strong showing from their guards, as sophomore Prentiss Hubb and senior T.J. Gibbs provided 25 and 17 points, respectively, in a back-and-forth game that came down to Notre Dame’s foul shooting. Hubb scored five of six shots down the stretch while sophomore guard Dane Goodwin, who was the third-leading scorer having contributed 15 points off the bench, connected on one to help maintain the Irish lead and seal the victory.
Virtually absent from the win over the Yellowjackets was sophomore forward Nate Laszewski, who scored only three points and grabbed only one rebound in Atlanta. However, the Jupiter, Florida, native had a strong showing against Wake Forest, knocking down three of five shots from downtown and three of four free throws en route to a season-high 18 points — earning praise from Brey.
“I felt, we’ve seen Prentiss and we’ve seen Dane kind of look like, ‘Here they come,’ and I thought tonight was that night for Nate,” Brey said. “The way he hunted his shot. He fouls a little bit because he’s still a little young up in the shoulders, but he’s so active defensively. Showing on the ball screen, flying around. He was our best post defender tonight. With his stroke and his skill level … he should have a swagger, and we’ve been after him to let that loose.”
Brey also discussed how Laszewski’s development could hold the key to Irish success.
“I thought there was a different look about him, so maybe we’ve got him joining those other two guys,” Brey said. “And you’ve heard me say it, those guys are kind of X-factor guys for us. ’Cause T.J. was fabulous, and he’s going to keep doing what he does, and Johnny’s going to keep doing what he does, and [graduate student guard] Rex [Pflueger] is going to keep doing what he does. And we’ll see with [senior forward] Juwan [Durham], but those three can really maybe get us somewhere.”
Also during Saturday’s game will be the induction of former Irish forward Kelly Tripucka, a member of Notre Dame’s sole Final Four team in program history in 1977-78 as a freshman, into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor. He played all four years for the Irish before pursuing a professional career in the NBA, where he played 10 seasons split among the Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets, earning two all-star berths.
“Kelly, he’s one of the all-time greats,” Brey said. “Powerful name. It’s one I remember so much watching Notre Dame basketball.”
Tripucka was third in scoring for the Irish as a freshman, averaging 11.7 points per game. He was a three-time All-American, leading the Irish in scoring his final three seasons on teams that featured Bill Laimbeer, Orlando Woolridge and John Paxson. He finished his career as the 12th-leading scorer in program history and will be the ninth men’s basketball inductee to the Ring of Honor.
Brey recounted the story of telling Tripucka that he would be inducted when the Irish played at Miami, Florida last season.
“[Kelly] teared up, it was awesome. It was really awesome,” Brey said. “… Most of his teammates will be here, a lot of them are coming back. So I think it’s gonna be a neat reunion for those guys and well-deserved. That’s one of those when you say ‘Tripucka’s going up,’ nobody argued that one.”
Tripucka will be honored at halftime of the game, but the Irish will look to sandwich a solid game of basketball around the ceremony and earn a much-needed second ACC home win.
“It’s big,” Brey said. “I talk about a homestand, and let’s get another one. When you’re in this league, when you’re in this now, where we are now — January, February — and you’re us, you’re living day-to-day, man, you’re just living day-to-day.”