Notre Dame falls to Ohio State, prepares for turnaround matchup at Kentucky
Junior guard Prentiss Hubb did just about all he could, but Notre Dame (1-2) fell to No. 22 Ohio State (4-0) 90-85 Tuesday night. The Irish led for the majority of the contest, building a lead as large as 11 points, but the Buckeyes mounted a furious second half comeback, taking the lead for good with just over three minutes to play.
“It was a great college game,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said postgame. “Two good teams throwing punches at each other … I’m really disappointed we lost, but I really liked what I saw and who we can be.”
The Irish shot more than 50% from the field, including 11 of 24 from beyond the arc.
“I loved who we were offensively,” Brey said. “We found a nice rhythm, and we’re moving the ball.”
Hubb scored a career high 26 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists to lead the Irish, but committed a crucial turnover in the final seconds.
“Prentiss Hubb is a flat-out winner,” Brey said. “He, at times, has been dragging this group along with him, and he did tonight. I just love his leadership, I love his toughness.”
Notre Dame was down 88-85 with 17 seconds to play, and Hubb, searching for an open three-pointer for himself or a teammate, passed to junior forward Nate Laszewski, but the ball was deflected off of Laszewski and out of bounds, giving it back to OSU with less than two seconds left. Ohio State made two free throws to seal the game.
“I just needed to make a better decision on that play,” Hubb said. ”I could have [done] a lot of things better, but I’m going to just take the responsibility for my team, and we’re going to move on and get better.”
“He says to me walking off, that’s my fault tonight,” Brey said of Hubb. “Are you kidding me? Stop. We’re not even in the game without him.”
Laszewski added 17 points and nine rebounds for Notre Dame, including an and-one dunk over a defender near the end of the first half. The Irish took an 8-0 run into the locker room, and continued their momentum into the second half. Two free throws from Lazewski with just under 15 minutes to play gave Notre Dame an 11-point lead, the largest of the game for either team.
Ohio State quickly battled back, however, going on an 18-6 run to retake the lead. Graduate student forward Juwan Durham was in foul trouble much of the second half and fouled out with more than eight minutes left in the game. Durham, the Irish’s leading shot blocker and arguably most physical interior defender, scored seven points and grabbed nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end, before fouling out. His absence opened up the paint for Ohio State and made it more difficult for the Irish to defend.
“Credit Ohio State, they made a few more physically tough plays around the rim that hurt us,” Brey said.
The Buckeyes scored 28 points in the paint and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.
Notre Dame had a distinct size advantage, with Durham standing at 6-foot-11 and Laszewski at 6-foot-10. The tallest Buckeye to play in the game was just 6-foot-8, yet the Irish still struggled to defend the paint and keep Ohio State off the glass.
Durham’s early exit also tested Notre Dame’s depth. The Irish played a thin, seven-man rotation, and, other than Durham, each of the starters played more than 37 minutes.
“Our freshman, we’re throwing them in against Ohio State — they’re trying, they’re working their butts off,” Brey said.
Freshman guard Tony Sanders Jr. struggled off the bench, committing three turnovers and four personal fouls. However, freshman forward Matt Zona impressed in relief of Durham, scoring a second chance basket and grabbing multiple key offensive rebounds.
“We hit the wall [at] about the eight minute mark, physically,” Brey said.
Brey again expressed optimism that Santa Clara transfer guard Trey Wertz would be granted eligibility, but said no decision had been reached. Wertz would give the Irish a much-needed and experienced scorer off the bench.
Notre Dame will continue to be tested when they travel to Lexington, Kentucky, this Saturday to take on the Kentucky Wildcats, before opening ACC play on Wednesday against No. 10 Duke.
The Irish currently have a three game series scheduled against Kentucky with Saturday’s game at Rupp arena, next year’s game at Madison Square Garden and the final game of the series taking place at Purcell Pavillion. Brey shared his excitement about playing a perennial college basketball powerhouse in Kentucky, but also expressed his disappointment because of the atypical atmosphere at Rupp Arena, which is only allowing 15% capacity.
“It’s a great brand to play in Kentucky basketball,” Brey said. “The negative side that the atmosphere there is classic, and it certainly won’t be like that on Saturday.”
The Irish will be flying to Lexington, which will mark the first time the team has traveled by plane this season.
“I know our administration has made sure the protocols of the charter companies are in line with what we’re doing. This is new territory for us,” Brey said.
While the Irish will certainly be the older, more experienced team against Kentucky, the Wildcats have a plethora of talented younger players who could prove problematic for the Irish on Saturday.
“Kentucky is younger and growing, but then I look at the NBA Draft projections and [freshmen guards Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston Jr.] are in the top 10, and I believe [senior forward Olivier] Sarr will be a first round pick,” Brey said.
Another issue for the Irish could be the absence of graduate student guard and team captain Nik Djogo, who injured his ankle in the season opener against Michigan State. While Brey expects Djogo to be back in time for next week’s ACC opener against Duke, he will likely be unavailable for Saturday meaning that the rotation will be kept at seven men for the Irish, and the two off the bench are freshmen: Sanders and Zona.
“We’re not very deep,” Brey said. “As to freshmen coming off of the bench, that has been a bit of a concern.”
Despite the youth of the guys coming off the bench, Brey is confident in the maturity of his starting five.
“We’ve gotten older together, and this group now is kind of starting to hit the stride, especially the junior class,” Brey said. “They’re starting to grow up and look more like young men than the boys they were when we played them as freshmen and sophomores.”
Once again, Brey praised Hubb for his strong leadership.
“There’s leadership now because it is his team. He’s the voice,” Brey said. “And I’ve just been so impressed with how he has tried to run our group, kept us in it and led us. He gives us toughness and belief, and it’s been exciting to see him get better, older and stronger since his freshman year.”
With both the Irish and the Wildcats coming in with only one win, Brey said it feels like both teams have their backs up against the wall to some extent. He added that, since the Irish have one of the most difficult schedules in the country this season, Saturday’s game against Kentucky is that much more important.
“If you look further into our schedule, it’s not like we got one week where we can get a win that’ll make us feel better about ourselves in December,” Brey said. “There’s not one of them on the schedule where you can just say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll get that one.’”
The Irish will tip-off against the Wildcats at 12 p.m. EST. The game will be aired on CBS.