Notre Dame sweeps season series against Miami
Greg McKenna | Monday, February 15, 2021
It may have been Valentine’s Day, but Notre Dame proved it could win ugly Sunday night at Purcell Pavilion in a 71-61 victory over Miami to pull within a game of .500.
Despite shooting only 24% from three, losing the turnover battle 10-5 and being out-rebounded on the offensive glass 15-10 by the ’Canes (7-12, 3-11 ACC), the Irish (9-10, 6-7 ACC) grabbed their sixth win in the last eight games with 18 points from graduate student guard Nikola Djogo.
“Certainly Nik Djogo was just fabulous,” said Notre Dame men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey postgame. “And he just senses not only today, but all year, ‘What does my team need?’”
Djogo has often struggled for minutes during his career in South Bend and has only averaged 4.5 points per game this year. Brey admitted he has not always been certain about Djogo’s role on the team before this season but said the Hamilton, Ontario, native has been crucial to Notre Dame’s success since fully recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the season opener.
“We weren’t as good as we could have been in December because he got hurt in the Michigan State game,” Brey said. “We were kind of scrambling there getting him back from that ankle [injury]. But now he does a little bit of everything. And again, it starts with his leadership.”
Djogo’s offensive contributions were critical against the Hurricanes given the shooting struggles of junior guards Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan. Despite playing all 40 minutes, Hubb finished with just four points and went 0-7 from three. Ryan scored just three points after going 1-6 from beyond the arc. Junior forward Nate Laszewski, who led the Irish with 15.2 points per game entering the contest, would finish the first half with only two points after picking up three fouls in the first 10 minutes.
For a team that usually relies heavily on its long-range shooting, Djogo said it was especially satisfying for the Irish to win without putting together a rampant offensive display.
“I mean, things are great when everyone’s knocking shots down,” Djogo said. “But great teams find ways to win even when they’re struggling offensively. I think we did that. And it was a big step for us, because every game counts at this point in the season.”
Both teams struggled offensively before Djogo entered the game just before the under-16 timeout after graduate student forward Juwan Durham picked up two quick fouls.
Djogo hit a three on his first trip down the floor to put the Irish up 7-3, but the ’Canes quickly surged back. Despite Miami’s team-wide 29% from the three-point line entering the game, sophomore guard Isaiah Wong hit back-to-back threes to give Miami an early 11-10 lead and keep the Irish honest on defense. Wong would be held to just below his season-average after finishing with a team-high 17 points.
There was a scary moment for the Irish just before the first media timeout when Ryan went down holding his leg and slapping the floor after trying to fight through a screen. He left the game but would return with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Brey admitted he was initially worried about losing a key starter during this critical juncture of the season.
“The way went down, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s going to be two weeks,’” Brey said. “But he played through it, he came back.”
Miami led by as many as five as Notre Dame struggled to find its rhythm, but the lead could have been more if the Hurricanes were not as wasteful at the charity stripe. Miami only made one of its first seven free throws and ended up shooting 36% in the first half and 57% for the game from the line.
Junior guard Dane Goodwin gave the Irish some momentum heading into the under-eight timeout with a deep three to cut the ’Canes lead to two. Fellow junior guard Trey Wertz capped the 7-0 run with a floater for his first points of the evening to put Notre Dame up 27-25. Both finished with nine points.
Miami briefly took the lead after Wong got loose for a layup and added his third and final three of the evening, but the Irish held the Hurricanes to 2-19 from the field to finish the half and managed to enter the locker room with the game tied 31-31.
Notre Dame had allowed 80 or more points in its last two games, but Brey was proud his team was able to rely on their defense Sunday.
“[I] said [during] one of the timeouts with four, five minutes left [in the game], ‘I could care less [about] what happens on offense,’” Brey said. “‘Can we defend to win the game [and] see if we can really guard,’ and I thought we did.”
His team came out of halftime energized and jumped to a 40-34 lead after a dunk by Durham off a pass from Laszewski sparked a 6-0 run. After losing the battle on the offensive glass 10-6 in the first 20 minutes, Notre Dame grabbed the first four offensive rebounds of the second half.
The Irish pushed the lead to seven, but a three pointer from Miami senior guard Elijah Olaniyi with 6:44 to go capped a 11-4 run that put the ’Canes up 54-52. Less than a minute before, Ryan had been called for a flagrant foul on Miami redshirt senior guard Kameron McGusty for his attempt to prevent McGusty from scoring an easy two after picking Ryan’s pocket in the open court. McGusty was a nuisance on defense for Notre Dame all night, finishing with three steals to go along with his 12 points.
After being held in check for most of the night, however, one of the most offensively efficient players in the country finally made his mark. Laszewski, who entered the game leading the nation with an effective field goal percentage of .755, scored the game’s next seven points to put the Irish up 59-54 with just over four minutes left. The Jupiter, Florida, native finished with 14 points.
Wertz hit a three that stretched the lead to 64-56 with just over two minutes to go, and Goodwin’s team-high third three of the night with 50 seconds left proved to be the final dagger as the Irish made their final five field goals en route to a 10-point victory.
With the win, the Irish sweep the season series vs. the ’Canes after prevailing 73-59 in Coral Gables in late January. Miami has now only won one of their last six games following an impressive mid-January victory over then-No. 16 Louisville.
If Notre Dame hopes to become a .500 team and perhaps spark discussion of a late challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid in this COVID-19-affected season, it will likely face a stiffer test from Clemson (13-5, 7-5 ACC) Wednesday, who currently sit fifth in the conference. Sunday’s win and the upcoming matchup against the Tigers will be the first set of back-to-back home games the Irish have played all season.
Tip-off Wednesday is scheduled for 7 p.m.