‘Fire Brey’: Struggling Irish drop home contest by 11
Ellen Geyer | Friday, March 5, 2021
After last night, even Mike Brey would fire Mike Brey.
As a jeer to that end tumbled from the stands, a 9-14 Notre Dame (6-11 ACC) team stumbled into the locker room, shoulders sagging following a resounding 80-69 defeat at the hands of NC State (13-9, 9-8).
“That was well warranted by our students because that was a poor performance. They should have been on me,” head coach Mike Brey said of the remark.
It really was that kind of day. The following play epitomizes it:
In the game’s second half, junior guard Prentiss Hubb stuttered left, palmed it back across right, and drove hard down the lane. Shoulder buried and head down, he bloomed as he reached the final hash, launching skyward for an acrobatic layup. But the shot was doomed as soon as it left his hand, senior NC State forward D.J. Funderburk extending to smack it against the glass and away from the awaiting rim for his team’s eighth block of the evening.
“We were just kind of holding on for dear life the whole time,” Brey said in a press conference following the game. “We were outplayed by some men on both ends of the court.”
The Irish were led by Hubb, who had 14 points to go with three rebounds and three assists. The next-best Notre Dame player was junior guard Trey Wertz, who had 12 points and five rebounds of his own. But three of the game’s four leading scorers were on the NC State side: freshman guard Cam Hayes (20), redshirt freshman Dereon Seabron (17) and junior forward Jericole Hellems (13).
Notre Dame shot 38% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc to NC State’s 54% and 39%. The Irish turned the ball over 11 times and gave up 38 points in the paint. Yet another lineup change from Brey left junior forward Dane Goodwin on the bench to start the game, Hubb and Wertz being joined in the starting five by junior guard Cormac Ryan, graduate student forward Juwan Durham and junior forward Nate Laszewski.
“We’ve got more than we’re showing,” Brey said. “When we don’t get a good offensive possession, then we hang our heads a little bit on the defensive end. That is an amazingly difficult trap to fall into.”
With the first game that’s seen students allowed in Purcell Pavilion, the Irish got off to a hot start, winning the opening tip and finding Durham in the post for a dunk. But the momentum ended there, and the two-point lead lasted for all of 19 seconds — the only time Notre Dame led the entire game. In the first four minutes, the Irish turned it over three times, letting the Wolfpack take an 11-4 lead at the first timeout. The momentum seemed to swing back to Notre Dame in the next few possessions behind a Laszewski block that led to a Hubb three, and the Irish rode a seven-point run to tie it back up at 11. For the next few minutes, the teams traded baskets to keep it close, but at the six-minute mark the narrative changed as NC State found its stride.
The Wolfpack went on a 12-3 run and held the Irish scoreless for just under three minutes, extending into their largest lead of the night until that point at 34-24. A couple of threes courtesy of Goodwin and Laszewski brought life back into the team as the half expired, but the Irish went into the locker room on the wrong side of a 40-32 score.
Despite keeping it close in the first, Notre Dame let NC State run away with it from the opening tip of the second, the 10-point lead the team carried through the first half seeming modest when compared to the second. Defensively, Notre Dame had no answer for the big men on the inside: the average height of NC State’s starting five is 6-foot-8.
“We haven’t been able to protect the paint and our physicality around the basket? We’ve got more than were showing,” Brey said.
Offensively, the Irish were unable to penetrate the staunch man-to-man defense, forced to take perimeter shots they were unable to make. The Wolfpack led by as many as 19 in the second.
“It’s disappointing,” Brey said.
Yet as the game wound down, it seemed within reach for the briefest of moments: Notre Dame went on a 12-point run to cut it to 76-69 with 1:20 to play. But instead of putting his foot on the gas, Brey subbed in freshman forward Matt Zona and freshman guard Tony Sanders Jr., each of whom average roughly five minutes a contest. The result was four more points for the Wolfpack and none for the Irish, the score of 80-69 on the board as time expired.
Brey said he “wasn’t really sure” why there was no sense of urgency.
“We didn’t have much, and we really haven’t had much the last two games in terms of fighting,” he said.
Ryan echoed the sentiment.
“I don’t know if there’s one specific reason [why we’re not winning]. We know we’re capable of doing it, so it’s just a matter of executing,” he said.
The loss comes at a disappointing time for the Irish, who will likely not capture another victory in the regular season as their only remaining game brings No. 11 Florida State to Purcell Pavilion on Saturday. At 12th in the ACC in a year that the NCAA tournament is predicted to only take six teams from the conference, they’ll likely miss the Madness for the fourth year in a row.
But guaranteed a spot in Greensboro, Notre Dame will look to make some noise in the conference tournament come next weekend — at least that’s what the still-employed Mike Brey would like to do.
“We only have two games guaranteed left on our schedule,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out what we want to do in Greensboro to compete and how we want to dig in on Saturday.”