Irish stun No. 11 Seminoles, claim senior day upset
Aidan Thomas | Monday, March 8, 2021
The Florida State men’s basketball team has made a name out of being a fantastic first-half squad, frequently coming out of the gates red hot and pummeling opponents into submission before the halftime buzzer. Heading into Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame, the No. 11 Seminoles had trailed at halftime just once this season, as they faced a seven-point deficit against Georgia Tech in one of three ACC losses.
However, Notre Dame, who honored graduate students guard Nikola Djogo and forward Juwan Durham, did not fold so quickly on senior day at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame dominated the Seminoles in the first twenty minutes, jumping out to a 47-31 halftime advantage, and they battled throughout the second half to close out the visitors en route to an 83-73 victory, their first ranked win since 2017. With the win, Notre Dame improved to 7-11 in ACC play and secured the No. 11 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
The upset win was particularly surprising for Notre Dame, who entered on a four-game losing streak and a dismal effort on Wednesday night at home against NC State, losing 80-69 to the Wolfpack.
However, when asked about what sparked the team to display such resiliency against a top-15 team just days after a horrific loss, 20 days out from their last victory, head coach Mike Brey kept it simple.
“It started Wednesday night … when you have high-character guys, and their pride has been banged up, they respond,” he said.
Djogo said that the team was texting frequently after the loss, and the Canada native said he acknowledged that he had put on a ”cheap performance“. From the tip on Saturday afternoon, it was clear that there was a message received.
The Irish started fast, as junior guard Prentiss Hubb swished a three-pointer on Notre Dame’s first possession, and after a stop, it was Djogo with a monster poster attempt that was controversially called back despite seeming to go through the net. However, Djogo earned free throws on the play, made one, and the Irish were off to the races.
With 17:51 to play in the first half, Djogo flushed home another dunk, and this one counted, giving Notre Dame an 8-3 lead. Although the game was certainly in doubt for long after that, it put Notre Dame ahead by more than a possession for the last time, as the Irish were able to keep the Seminole at arm’s length for the majority of the game.
Djogo continued his hot start to his final home game for the Irish with a three-ball and a pair of free throws to push the advantage to eight points.
“All of the stuff I said on Wednesday wouldn’t have meant much if I did the same stuff,” Djogo said. “So I prided myself on getting a hot start and trying to jumpstart us a little.”
The Irish got a further spark from junior transfer guard Cormac Ryan, who came off the bench after the first media timeout and got his afternoon off to a sizzling start with a pair of triples. Ryan’s sparkling start was followed by a gritty, gutsy effort as the former Stanford guard notched 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a critical late-game steal.
“He’s got a great edge about him,” Brey said of Ryan’s effort off the bench. “His voice in the locker room was needed. He was making tough, hard plays, being physical.”
Ryan’s consecutive three-pointers put Notre Dame up 14, and they never allowed Florida State to make any significant surge throughout the first half. Hubb knocked down another two shots from distance en route to his team-leading 22 points. For Florida State, it was the worst halftime deficit since Jan. 5, 2019, when they trailed by 19 points to Virginia.
As the second half started, there was a somewhat unsettled feeling in the crowd at Purcell. The Irish were beating the No. 11 team in the country, but fans have also seen a disappointing tale unfold before. Notre Dame was winless in their last 28 in games against ranked teams, holding significant advantages in several of them. Just last year, the Irish let a seven-point halftime lead against the Seminoles wilt into a loss at home. In February, Notre Dame had let halftime leads of 15 and 14 points against Georgia Tech and Syracuse slip away, costing them key conference wins.
That uneasy feeling only increased as the Irish started the second half 0-5 from the field with a pair of turnovers, and Florida State ripped off a 7-0 run to close the deficit to single digits. However, Hubb picked a fantastic time to hit 1,000 career points, as he drove through the lane and executed a beautiful reverse finish at the rim to restore an 11-point advantage.
“He’s a gamer,” Brey said of Hubb. “He just loves to compete.”
Florida State never went away, but Notre Dame demonstrated a resiliency that simply hasn’t been there at times this season. After the Seminoles closed within eight, Djogo drove hard and drew the foul while finishing his layup, converting a free throw for a three-point play.
“I thought we had some edge to us,” Brey said of his team’s grit in the second half. “To get loose balls, take charges and get our nose in there. You’re not going to get anything pretty against an athletic defense that switches, but we did a good job opening up the floor.”
Junior guard Dane Goodwin made his presence known in the second half, with a bevy of clutch shots after a quiet first 20 minutes. He finished with 15 points, including a clutch three, some pure free throw shooting and acrobatic finishes at the rim.
“We knew we had to be better in every aspect of the game,” Goodwin said. “We came out hungry today.”
Goodwin’s biggest shot came from distance after Florida State again closed the deficit to 10 with 12:14 to play, but the Irish brought the ball down the floor, found Goodwin on the left side, and the junior buried the triple for a 62-49 lead. It was Notre Dame’s last basket for over two minutes, but their impressive defensive intensity kept the Seminoles contained until Ryan drilled his third three-pointer of the game, pushing the advantage to 65-53.
However, another Florida State run pushed the Irish to the limit once more. After a Hubb bucket with 4:22 remaining gave the Irish a 10-point advantage, the Seminoles scored six straight to close to 74-70 with 2:30 remaining on the clock. But from there, Notre Dame closed the door with some free throw shooting and fantastic defense. After missing a layup on the ensuing possession, Notre Dame got steals from junior guard Trey Wertz and junior forward Nate Laszewski to prevent any shot attempts from the Seminoles. Hubb laid in a basket with 1:10 to play, and the Irish were up by six once more. In the next 30 seconds, Florida State missed three triples, with the Irish securing the defensive rebound on each occasion. Notre Dame drilled seven of eight free throws in the final minute to pull out the victory, 83-73.
A major discrepancy in this game, besides Notre Dame’s hot start, was free throw shooting, as the Irish made their way to the charity stripe 34 times, sinking 28 attempts. Florida State made just 15 of 20, making for a 13-point differential at the free throw line. Other than that, the overall stats were relatively equal, with both teams shooting over 40%, albeit the Irish being slightly better from distance, connecting on 9 of 27 three-point attempts to FSU’s 6-24. The Seminoles were led by 17 points from reserve Scottie Barnes and 15 from forward Raiquan Gray. Six of the seven players seeing game action for the Irish notched at least nine points, and Goodwin finished a rebound shy of the double-double, with 15 points and 9 boards.
The win is a huge confidence booster for Notre Dame, who now faces a daunting ACC tournament run if they are to have any hope of extending their season beyond next week. First up is No. 14-seed Wake Forest, with a battle against No. 6 North Carolina awaiting if Notre Dame can escape the Demon Deacons. Tip-off for the Irish will be Tuesday in Greensboro.