Irish to finish homestand with critical matchup against Panthers
Greg McKenna | Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Notre Dame will look to finish off a three-game homestand undefeated Wednesday night as the Irish take on former Big East foe Pittsburgh. The 66th matchup between the Panthers (14-8, 5-6 ACC) and Notre Dame (13-8, 4-6 ACC), who currently sit 10th and 11th in the ACC standings, respectively, is practically a must-win for both teams if they wish to keep their hopes of earning an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament alive. After a pair of heartbreaking losses to Syracuse at home and away at Florida State, the Irish have rediscovered momentum heading into Wednesday night by defeating both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech back home in Purcell Pavilion.
This newfound momentum is no more apparent than on the offensive end, where the Irish have scored 80 points or more in each of the last four games, putting up 90 against Wake Forest last Wednesday. After struggling to score in the first two months of the season, Notre Dame now leads the nation in several metrics of offensive efficiency, including highest assist-to-turnover-ratio (1.78) and fewest turnovers per game (9.7). At a press conference Monday, head coach Mike Brey attributed the offensive renaissance to improvements across the board.
“I think there’s a little bit of everything,” Brey said. “[Senior forward] Johnny [Mooney] was going to be Johnny. [Senior guard] T.J. Gibbs has settled into a nice tempo and is knowing how to get his stuff and playing with a great demeanor. I think [graduate student guard] Rex [Pflueger] is finding people in his court vision at really a high level, you know. [Sophomore guard] Prentiss [Hubb] is finding people, … [sophomore guard] Dane [Goodwin] is being really aggressive … I’m really pleased with how he is just trying to get shots.”
Against Georgia Tech, the Irish were paced by many of their senior leaders. Mooney continued to be a double-double machine, putting up 28 points and pulling down 10 rebounds on 9-18 shooting. It was Mooney’s 17th double-double of the year, which ranks second nationally, and he remains the only player in the country averaging over 16 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Gibbs was also impressive on the game after he made history, adding 19 points to his career total of 780 in conference, the highest all-time in the ACC as of the game on Jan. 29. This year, Gibbs has been one of the conference’s most efficient shooters, ranking third in field goal percentage (52.8), second in three-pointer field goal percentage (48.1) and first in free throw percentage (90.2). After the Georgia Tech game, Brey expressed his pleasure with the leadership and contributions from his seniors.
“I’m proud of our seniors,” he said. “I thought all three of them set the tone for us in a very important game.”
Despite the dominance of Mooney on the glass, one worry for the Irish remains their negative rebounding margin. The Irish were out-rebounded by Georgia Tech 42-32, but Brey was happy with his team’s effort and ability to grab boards in big moments, and admitted that low numbers on the glass are an occupational hazard of the way the Irish play, which often involves going small.
“That’s how we gamble,” Brey said. “Can we out-efficient them offensively? Everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, we have to get a big guy in there and rebound!’ And I say, ‘Wait a minute, they have to guard us on the other end.’”
Another key development for the Irish has been the ascendancy of Dane Goodwin, the only player in the ACC who averages double-figures having started fewer than three games. On Monday, Goodwin was asked about how he has settled into his role of providing important scoring off the bench.
“I’m just getting used to the game,” he said. “I’m just accepting my role, knowing what I need to do to help the team. And I think guys have really helped me get there. Guys just feed me, find me the ball. … I think my confidence is at an all-time high, and I think that’s important for me and for the team.”
Pittsburgh is led in scoring by sophomore guards Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson, who average 12.7 and 11.8 points per game, respectively. Fortunately for the Irish, the Panthers also struggle on the glass, posting a -0.6 rebounding margin on the season so far. The young Pittsburgh team also only shoots 29.7% from three as a team, compared to Notre Dame’s 35%, although Johnson has personally managed to shoot 34.4% from deep this season.
Wednesday’s tip-off at Purcell Pavilion is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.