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Men’s Basketball

Hubb and Ryan remain focused despite disappointing ACC Tournament loss

| Friday, March 11, 2022

On a night when very little went right for Notre Dame as they were defeated 87-80 by Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, a pair of senior guards provided a bright spot. During the first half, when the Irish offense was stagnant and sluggish, Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan kept them in the game. When things finally started to click for the Irish, Hubb and Ryan spearheaded the charge. It was ultimately a case of Notre Dame’s comeback attempt being too little, too late, but the breakout performances from two of their veteran leaders could prove crucial as they shift their focus to the NCAA Tournament.

Not everything has gone according to plan for Hubb this season. Coming off a standout year in which he earned Third Team All-ACC honors, he struggled to score early in the season, especially from the perimeter, and he turned the ball over at a high rate. However, he seemed to flip a switch at the inception of conference play, and his performance has steadily improved alongside that of the entire Irish squad. His clutch shot-making ability helped guide Notre Dame to a 15-5 conference record, highlighted by a fadeaway buzzer-beater to defeat Pitt in December.

Hubb was the best version of himself on Thursday in Brooklyn while posting a season-high 23 points and 5 assists. He distributed the ball, attacked the basket tenaciously and has hit a number of difficult shots from deep. After the game, Hubb spoke about how important the trust that he and his teammates have built in each other over the course of the year is to their success.

“I feel like we have a lot of guys that can attack off the dribble and make certain reads and I think we have faith in all of the guards that come off the ball screens and pass the ball to each other,” Hubb said after the game. “We have confidence that the person who we’re passing it to can make a good play and help our team.”

For that trust to be rewarded, Notre Dame needs its guards to play unselfishly while also being ready to attack when given the chance, and Ryan embodied that mentality against Virginia Tech in a return to his hometown of New York City. He has been a knockdown perimeter shooter and hard-nosed defender for the Irish all season but has become more aggressive in Notre Dame’s last eight games, scoring in double figures in six of those — having not done so in the previous eleven. On Thursday, he was extremely decisive with the ball in his hands on the way to a season-high of 20 points. He frequently looked to attack his defender off the dribble or shoot immediately off the catch, and if neither option was available, he did not hesitate to quickly swing the ball to a teammate.

“[Playing unselfishly is] what we’ve done all year to be successful. We’re a group that shares it freely and we’ve got tremendous chemistry on and off the court,” Ryan said. “It’s paramount for our success, even more so than other teams because that’s just who we are. That’s in our D.N.A. That’s our identity.”

Having the right mindset on both sides of the court has been a big part of Notre Dame’s success this year. The Irish have coupled their selfless mentality on offense with grit and intensity on defense to combat their relative lack of size in comparison to most ACC teams. As leaders of the team, Hubb and Ryan have embraced playing a major role in setting that tone defensively, and Ryan praised the team’s ability to continue to fight during the second half despite not having quite enough steam to overcome their slow start.

“[In the second half] we made a run, we threw a punch back, and you know this group will always punch back,” Ryan said. “Bringing energy and toughness is a key for us and we dug ourselves a hole. You’re playing good teams and you’re playing them in March; it’s hard to dig yourself out of that.”

Hubb and Ryan are both currently playing their best basketball of the season, and it comes at a welcome time as they try to wash the bad taste of Thursday’s loss out of their mouths and prepare for what they hope will be a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

“We can’t dwell on this game,” Hubb said. “The only thing we can really do is learn from this. We have to come out ready to play.”

The team is confident that their strong body of work over the course of the season, which includes a second-place finish in the ACC regular season, will be enough for the selection committee to call their name on Sunday for the first time since 2017, despite a missed opportunity for resume-boosting wins in Brooklyn.

“We’re going to be focused and hungry, and it does make you feel better that you will have another crack at it,” Ryan said. “Obviously it’s a very tough loss, but if anything, it’ll definitely put a little fire in our belly.”

As the Irish await their fate, there are some aspects of their performance that they will look to carry forward despite the loss, namely the improved play of Hubb and Ryan. Though it was not enough to beat Virginia Tech, having two players efficiently and consistently scoring and creating offense, in addition to their leading scorers All-ACC selections freshman guard Blake Wesley and senior guard Dane Goodwin, are potential X-Factors for a Notre Dame team that tends to suffer from long cold stretches offensively.

If the Irish string together a few wins in March, don’t be surprised if it’s because of their veteran guards making key plays down the stretch and playing with the attitude and mindset needed to lead the team to victory.

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