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Irish ready to bounce back after lackluster year

| Friday, May 21, 2021

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team fought through a tough season posting a lackluster 11-15 overall record on the year and a 7-11 ACC record. This is the third consecutive year that Mike Brey’s Irish have missed the big dance. The team finished in the bottom half of the ACC but picked up some solid wins along the way, including a road win over Duke, albeit it was a different Duke team and a different Cameron Indoor than we are used to seeing.

It was such a grueling season in fact that second-year athletic trainer Nixon Dorvilien was named team MVP for his outstanding work shouldering COVID testing and protocols. It was a move that Brey called “unorthodox,” but in a season unlike any other and with an award dubbed the “Tougher than the Year MVP,” it is definitely warranted. Notre Dame did see eight of their scheduled games affected by COVID-19 safety protocols enacted by the opposing team this season, but the Irish and Dorvilien made sure they were eligible for every game. 

The Irish got off to a rough start straight from the jump, dropping their opener to Michigan State on Nov. 28. They responded with a win over Detroit Mercy a little over a week later and edged out a 64-63 win over Kentucky in Rupp Arena in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But as they approached the new year, struggles began to settle in. They dropped games to Duke and Purdue, then claimed an 81-70 win over Bellarmine, a team in the process of transitioning to Division I hoops. But after suffering 57-66 defeat to Virginia at home on Dec. 30, they would not find another win until mid January as they dropped four straight to conference opponents. The loss to Virginia was followed by a narrow loss to UNC, 66-65.

Then, the Irish had their first interruption of the season after their matchup against Georgia Tech was cancelled thanks to positive tests and contact tracing in the Yellow Jackets locker room. The Irish simply put, were just never able to find their groove. 

Photo Courtesy of ND Athletics
Irish junior guard Trey Wertz drives past an opponent during Notre Dame’s 80-77 win over Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament on March 9 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Though they weren’t able to string together wins as much as they would have liked, the group still accomplished much on the court this season. Junior guard and team captain Prentiss Hubb passed the 1,000 point mark in Notre Dame’s win over Florida State, becoming the 65th Notre Dame player to reach the mark in program history. He is the 24th player of the Mike Brey era to score 1,000 points and the sixth to do so in three years or less. He also dished it out in conference play, finishing with 120 assists, second among all major conference players in league action. Fellow captain Juwan Durham finished the season ranked third on the program’s career all-time blocked shots list with 178. The graduate student forward sits behind LaPhonso Ellis and Jordan Cornette on the list with 200 and 201 respectively. Graduate Student forward and team captain Nikola Djogo made his first start in two years against Virginia Tech and led the Irish to victory against No. 11 ranked FSU, dropping 11 points on Senior Day. 

The Irish may have underperformed this season but they are ready to get back at it again next year. When Mike Brey was asked to evaluate where his team was at the end of his 20th season with the Irish and right after a 101-59 loss to UNC, he ended his long response by saying, “I told them a year from this Selection Sunday our goal should be to see our name flash up.”

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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