Buzzer-beater win for the Irish in nail-biter ACC tournament showing
Emily DeFazio | Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Notre Dame advances to face North Carolina in the ACC tournament after their win against Wake Forest on Tuesday night. This follows a buzzer-beater three-point shot by junior guard Trey Wertz to cap off the close game.
The game started off rough for the Irish (11-14, 8-11 ACC). After winning the tip off, Wake Forest (6-16, 3-15 ACC) dominated the score board, despite Notre Dame gaining the first points of the match. Graduate student forward Juwan Durham saw some action, with the ball usually winding up in his hands for some early points. Junior guard Prentiss Hubb, who is usually a lead scorer for the team, did not make a basket during the first half. Instead, Wertz was the player making the three-point shots, though they were limited.
Though shots went back and forth between the two teams, Wake Forest proved to be more consistent in the first portion of the game.
“Every time we’d get it to six, somebody would make a play and get it to 10,” coach Mike Brey said of their opponent’s lead in his post-game interview.
In addition to this, the team suffered on defense. The players were unable to get the rebounds necessary for them to retake the lead. This put the Irish several points behind the Demon Deacons, from which they were unable to recover until the final minutes of the game.
“We didn’t rebound very well, early, to dig that hole,” Brey said. “We defended most of the game Saturday against Florida State. We didn’t tonight.”
According to Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes in his halftime interview, his players “got some easy baskets” against Notre Dame’s defense, which put them ahead.
By the end of the half, junior forward Nate Laszewski, who has proven himself to be a linchpin player on the court, already had three fouls to his name, and Wake Forest led the score, 44-37.
The second half started on a similar foot. The Demon Deacons continued to make three-pointers, subsequently furthering their lead. At the 16-minute mark, the Wake Forest bench shouted cheers after a successful play, further contributing to the air of Wake Forest domination. Laszewski and Wertz both gained their fourth foul, while junior guard Cormac Ryan suffered an injury to his hip, taking him out of the game for a period of time.
However, the half marked an upswing in basket-making for the Irish. Junior guard Dane Goodwin helped keep the Irish on the board, scoring nine points in the second half. Graduate student guard Nikola Djogo also proved to be a force on the court after making his own three-point shots and blocking Wake Forest attempts at a basket. Hubb also gained his first points of the game, causing his level of gameplay to continue to improve.
“You can’t keep a winner like that down for 40 minutes,” Brey said of Hubb.
As for the turning point for the team, Brey named the 10-minute mark as the time they began to pick up momentum.
“At the 10-minute mark, it didn’t look very good,” Brey said. “I said ‘fellows, how we finish the game is really going to determine a lot about how we go into next season. … Show me how you’re going to play it, because I’m really interested.’”
Hubb tied the score 75-75 after sinking a three-pointer, putting the team back into the competition. Notre Dame held a 14-point streak for over five and a half minutes, while their defense solidified, making Wake Forest unable to advance its score.
“I thought our defense in the last seven minutes was the difference,” Brey said. “I thought the lineup we had on the floor really defended well together.”
Ryan also spoke on the energy of the team during those moments.
“We’ve got hungry guys in the locker room, and we’ve got a bunch of fighters, and we weren’t going down without a fight,” Ryan said. “And that’s exactly what we did — we fought back and got it done.”
When the score was tied again at 77-77 in the last seconds of the game, Ryan obtained the ball and passed it to Wentz, who made the winning shot, causing the stadium to erupt. This made the final score 80-77, Notre Dame.
Brey said it was a special moment for Wertz, as he is from North Carolina and had never played in the ACC tournament before.
“When he rose up to take it, I’m going ‘this could be such an unbelievable story,’” he said. “He’s never played in the building. He’s watched the ACC tournament his whole life, and his first game he drills it in his home state. I mean, it’s just a great story.”
Ryan, who gave the pass to set up the shot, said he felt it would go in the second it left Wentz’s hands.
“We knew it was good,” Ryan said. “We were walking off the court already.”
For Wertz, a part of his reason for committing to Notre Dame was to play in the ACC.
“It’s a dream come true; as a little kid dreaming of playing in the ACC and to be able to do that. … I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Wertz said. “We were laughing about it on the court that I wasn’t even supposed to play this year. And now that I’m back here in the ACC tournament in my home state, playing in something I grew up watching my whole life, and to be able to hit that shot is really surreal.”
As for the game as a whole, Brey commented on the team’s camaraderie as a vital component to their success.
“I think there’s a toughness about them, and there’s a togetherness about this group,” Brey said. “Even through everything they’ve been through, they’ve had each other’s back.”
He hopes this continues into the game against North Carolina on Wednesday night.
“What we do in the ACC is kind of amazing, quite frankly,” Brey said. “If you can win the first one, which we’ve done many times in the ACC, it kind of gives you hope.”