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Men’s basketball rallies to stun North Carolina

| Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Irish secured a much-needed win Monday night in wild fashion against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Trailing most of the second half and facing a double-digit deficit with under eight minutes to go, the Irish (16-10, 7-8 ACC) found a way to rally late and pull off a stunning last second victory.

Anthony Reo
Notre Dame grad student guard Rex Pflueger surveys the court at the top of the key during Notre Dame’s 80-72 victory over Pitt on feb. 5th at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish played fairly well at the beginning of the game, limiting North Carolina freshman phenom Cole Anthony to just six points at the half. The Irish also held the Tar Heels (10-16, 3-12 ACC) to just 35.1% from the floor in the first half. With roughly three minutes to go it looked as if the Irish might even run away with the game, as they had a 33-24 advantage.

The last couple minutes of the first half proved costly for the Irish, though, as a couple mistakes allowed the momentum to swing in the direction of the Tar Heels. With the shot clock off and the Irish still holding onto a five-point advantage, sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb took a contested layup with about eight seconds to go, allowing the Tar Heels to get the ball back. The Tar Heels cashed in on the other end to cut the Irish lead to 36-33 at the half.

Senior forward John Mooney made the first basket of the half to bring the Irish lead to five, but the Tar Heels took over after that. In a span of just four minutes, the Tar Heels went on a 13-0 run that saw Cole Anthony heat up and score seven points, opening up a 46-38 lead for the Tar Heels. Sophomore guard Dane Goodwin finally ended the Tar Heel run by knocking down a much-needed three to cut the Tar Heel lead to 46-41.

The Irish continued to make mistakes on the offensive end; they carelessly threw the ball away, allowing the Tar Heels to make an easy layup on the other side of the floor and take a 50-41 lead. Senior forward Juwan Durham managed to get to the line on the ensuing Irish possession, but he missed both free throws. The Tar Heels continued to dominate on the other side of the floor, and they extended their lead to double digits.

The Irish offense finally started to heat up, but the Tar Heels kept the pressure on the Irish and they still had a 60-48 advantage heading into the under eight-minute timeout. 

Sophomore forward Nate Laszewski discussed how he and his teammates were confident in their ability to come back despite the large deficit late in the game.

“I think we came together in the media timeouts, and we told each other we had to believe,” Laszewski said. “We got stops, [senior guard] T.J. [Gibbs] started hitting shots, and Prentiss [Hubb] started making a lot of shots, and I think we got a lot of momentum that way.”

Hubb was still angry about Saturday’s blowout loss to Duke.

“We were down like 15 points, and we had just lost by 30, so for me personally, I wasn’t about to let us lose another game by that many points,” Hubb said. “It was just me being aggressive. I think the team needs me and T.J. to be aggressive.”

Like Hubb, Irish head coach Mike Brey understood the importance of forgetting about the Duke blowout loss.

“I actually said at the under four timeout in Cameron [Indoor Stadium]; ‘Who is guarding Cole Anthony on Monday?’” Brey said. “And T.J. and [graduate student guard] Rex [Pflueger] argued over it. We flushed that one quick.”

Out of the under eight minute timeout, the Irish began to cut into the Tar Heel lead with Hubb and Gibbs both hitting threes to bring the Irish within nine. After a defensive stop on the other end, Hubb ran the floor to convert a layup and bring the Irish to within seven with six and a half to go and a reinvigorated crowd at Purcell Pavilion.

The crowd was in the game from that point on, and Brey recognized its importance to the outcome of the game.

“Our crowd was fabulous,” Brey said. “Once we got going a bit they were into it.”

Despite the home court advantage, it appeared the Tar Heels were still in a good position to win the game, as they led by nine points with just over four minutes to play. The Irish had different plans, however, and ended the game on a 13-3 run that saw the Irish make a barrage of three pointers and get some key defensive stops.

With just under a minute to go, the Irish still trailed by four before a runner from Gibbs cut the lead to two with 46.6 seconds to play. On the ensuing Tar Heel possession, Anthony air-balled a three, and the ball went out of bounds off the Tar Heels moments later. 

The Irish capitalized on their final possession in crazy fashion. After Mooney missed a shot, Pflueger got the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to Laszewski, who drained a three to give the Irish a 77-76 advantage with 2.4 seconds to play. The last-second heave from the Tar Heels was no good, and the Irish secured the stunning victory.

Laszewski knew he made the shot before it left his hands.

“Mooney got a great look at a post up,” Laszewski said. “Rex [Pflueger] got on the glass like he does, kicked it out to me, and I shot it with confidence. … The way I shot it, I thought it was good.”

Brey was ecstatic in his post-game press conference and discussed his team’s ability to adjust late in the game.

“We found something to finish and I thought our defense was fabulous over the last six or seven minutes,” Brey said. “We had a number of guys who wanted to take big shots.” 

Brey discussed how important it is to have someone like Hubb communicating with others on the court.

“Hubb has a great voice, and he sparked us obviously,” Brey said. “Those guys talk in the huddle, and they knew exactly where they were.”

Brey also discussed Laszewski’s confidence shooting the ball down the stretch. Laszewski also made a clutch shot against Toledo early in the season to send the game to overtime.

“As soon as he caught it there was no hesitation. I think his percentage is better in those than the 38 other minutes of the game,” Brey said.

The Irish will look to continue their winning ways this Sunday when they face Miami at home at 6 p.m.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

Contact Nate