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ND looks to return to winning ways in ACC at Louisville

| Friday, January 21, 2022

Just last Wednesday, Notre Dame was smashing Clemson for a sixth straight victory that shot the Irish up to second in the ACC standings. At halftime against Virginia Tech Saturday, Notre Dame looked poised to grab a fifth straight conference win before the Irish train came to a screeching halt in a disastrous second half in Blacksburg. 

After a 79-73 loss that gave the Hokies their first conference win in five attempts, the Irish made a snowy drive up I-95 to take on a sub .500 Howard squad Monday. With less than a minute to play, a second straight second-half collapse threatened to put a major dent in Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament resume. 

However, senior guard Cormac Ryan hit two clutch free throws, Prentiss Hubb made a key layup with 12 seconds to go and Notre Dame managed to escape the nation’s capital with a three-point victory. Now, the Irish will look to return to winning ways in the ACC Saturday when they hit the road for the final time this month to take on Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. 

While Notre Dame (11-6, 4-2 ACC) has won seven of their last eight, Louisville (11-7, 5-3 ACC) had lost three straight before beating Boston College 67-54 at home Wednesday. 

The Irish are led offensively by senior guard Dane Goodwin, who has scored in double figures in all 17 games this season. He is also one of the most efficient players in the country and is the only major conference player to shoot over 50% from the field, 40% from beyond the arc and 90% from the line while averaging over 15 points per game. 

Freshman sensation Blake Wesley is close behind with 14.6 points per game. The guard was the first South Bend public school grad to sign with Notre Dame since 1985 and became the first true freshman in program history to hit double digits in 14 straight games after putting up 13 points against Howard. 

After the victory over the Bison Monday, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey credited much of Wesley’s immediate success to the freshman’s coachability and willingness to learn from his veteran teammates. 

“He gives us an unbelievable lift,” Brey said of Wesley. “And again, I think that he’s got really good older teammates that are like big brothers to him.” 

The third member of Brey’s lineup averaging double digits on the year is forward Paul Atkinson Jr. The grad transfer from Yale is scoring 11.5 points per game on almost 60% shooting from the field. 

But it was another experienced big man who provided the scoring lift the Irish needed against Howard. Senior Nate Laszewski had 17 points and 13 rebounds against the Bison and is shooting over 44% from beyond the arc this season, which includes a 6-for-7 performance from three against North Carolina. 

Brey said Laszewski is currently playing in a “great frame of mind.” 

“We couldn’t take him out,” Brey said. “He was solid defensively. He made some big shots. He was a pressure release. (He) played like the senior that he is.” 

However, Notre Dame’s difficulties handling the press remain a concern. Howard forced the Irish into 15 turnovers, including on four of five possessions that allowed the Bison to score 10 straight and cut the Irish lead to one before Notre Dame recovered in the final minute. 

“Some of our turnovers against pressure were an adventure and disappointing,” Brey said.  

However, the Irish are still 5-1 this season in games decided by five points or less. 

Louisville will also be looking to reignite their postseason aspirations. The Cardinals have won six straight against the Irish and haven’t lost on their home court to Brey’s team since March of 2015.

Louisville only has one player posting double figures this season, with senior guard Noah Locke averaging almost 11 points per game. 

Notre Dame is 9-0 this season when the Irish have shot better than their opponent. The Irish are shooting just over 45% from the field this season, slightly more than 3% better than the Cardinals. 

Saturday’s game will air on ESPN. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. 

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