Irish survive Cardinals, move to first in ACC
Liam Coolican | Friday, February 11, 2022
Once again, Notre Dame didn’t make it easy. The Irish led by as many as 14 in the second half before allowing Louisville to climb back into the game, but as they so often have this season, Mike Brey’s team came through when it mattered most. Notre Dame (17-7, 10-3 ACC) temporarily took sole possession of first place in the ACC with the 63-57 victory.
“This group has shown great character, being in tough spots and being able to finish games,” Brey said.
Louisville (11-13, 5-9 ACC) had all the momentum when they took a 55-54 lead on an alley-oop slam with 6:14 to play which silenced the crowd at Purcell Pavilion. After a timeout, Notre Dame responded, going on an 8-0 run capped by a three-pointer from senior guard Prentiss Hubb which effectively sealed the game.
It was a poor shooting night for Hubb, including two three-point attempts that didn’t even touch the rim in the first half. He’s often the player with the ball in his hands when the Irish need a basket most, and he came through again Wednesday night.
“He can shoot two airballs in the first half and then he can put the dagger in you,” Brey said. “Prentiss makes us believe.”
The Irish were without senior forward Nate Laszewski, who suffered a knee injury early in Saturday’s win over North Carolina State, breaking his streak of 34 consecutive games started. Brey used a six-man rotation for most of the contest; sophomore forward Matt Zona received just two first-half minutes.
“I think this group’s physically tough,” Brey said. “They’re pretty mentally tough too.”
In Laszewski’s absence, graduate student forward Paul Atkinson, Jr. continued his string of strong performances. He led the Irish with 17 points and both teams with a career-high 15 rebounds while playing more than 37 minutes. Atkinson had been named ACC player of the week on Monday.
“[In] the second half, I just thought, ‘We’ll use a timeout if we really need to rest him,’” Brey said. “I didn’t think he’d come out.”
Senior guard Dane Goodwin added 16 for the Irish, and freshman guard Blake Wesley chipped in with 11.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 12-point halftime lead, thanks in part to Louisville’s shooting woes. The Cardinals shot just 33% from the field and 17% from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes. However, the Cardinals made some key adjustments at halftime and worked the ball inside against Notre Dame’s four-guard lineups to great success.
They steadily chipped away at the deficit and finally took the lead after the alley-oop capped a 12-2 run, but Notre Dame’s defense clamped down after a timeout. The Cardinals didn’t score again for nearly six minutes, at which point Notre Dame’s lead was insurmountable. A driving layup from senior guard Trey Wertz gave the Irish the lead back with 04:31 left in the game, and they wouldn’t relinquish it.
Notre Dame has now won three in a row and 13 of their last 15 dating back to Dec. 20.
“When you’re the coach and you can ride that, and they have ownership, and they believe, it’s really cool to be around,” Brey said. “My motto is, ‘Don’t screw them up coach, don’t screw them up. Don’t over-coach them.’”
The Irish now head south to face Clemson (12-12, 4-9 ACC) on the road on Saturday night. The Irish have a conference-leading five league wins on the road.
“They love playing on the road,” Brey said. “They like quieting crowds, there’s a little bit of cockiness about them on the road.”
Notre Dame has never won an ACC regular-season championship since they joined the conference in 2012.
“When we were 3-1, we started talking about the regular-season championship,” Brey told his team. “Let’s believe that this is part of that. This is fate, this is our destiny.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled to tip-off from Clemson at 7 p.m. and will be aired on the ACC network.