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Notre Dame’s tournament run comes to an end at the hands of Texas Tech

| Monday, March 21, 2022

Notre Dame’s tournament run came to an end Sunday night at the hands of Texas Tech. The Irish, despite holding a three-point lead with two minutes to go, couldn’t overcome the Red Raider’s stifling defense and fell 59-53 in the round of 32. 

“We hung in there. We had our chances,” head coach Mike Brey said. “But they made a few more plays. And they’re really gifted and they are a great defensive team.”

The Irish had multiple chances to go ahead over the final two minutes, but two critical turnovers by freshman guard Blake Wesley allowed Texas Tech to close the game out and advance to the Sweet 16. 

“I know he had some tough ones, but I live with it because he’s our best creator, especially against those physical defensive guys,” Brey said of Wesley. He finished the contest with 11 points on 3-14 shooting, along with eight rebounds. 

The Red Raiders came into the contest holding opponents to the second-lowest field goal percentage among major-conference teams. Notre Dame shot just 32.7% from the field on the night, after relying on hot shooting through their first two NCAA tournament wins. They had shot better than 50% in their victories over Rutgers and Alabama to open the tournament. 

It was an incredibly balanced scoring attack in the first half for the Irish — each of Notre Dame’s seven rotation players made exactly one field goal. The team as a whole shot just 25% from the floor, but they remained within just a point thanks to a strong defensive effort.

The Irish took an early 7-6 lead but subsequently went cold from the field. They didn’t score for more than 6 minutes, allowing the Red Raiders to go on a 6-0 run. A three from senior guard Dane Goodwin finally broke the drought, and senior forward Nate Laszewski followed that with a triple of his own to tie the game. 

Texas Tech once again went ahead by six near the end of the first half, but a three from senior guard Cormac Ryan, his first points of the night after a career-high 29 point performance against Alabama, and a buzzer-beating layup from freshman guard Blake Wesley reduced the lead just a point heading into halftime. The Irish entered the locker room trailing 26-25. 

Goodwin began to heat up in the second half for the Irish. He finished with a team-high 14 points, 11 of which came in the second period, and also grabbed 8 rebounds. After Texas Tech opened another 6 point lead with 12:49 to play, Goodwin’s three-pointer keyed an 11-2 run to put Notre Dame up by three. It was their first lead of the second half, but it wouldn’t last long. 

“I’m glad we went out fighting,” Goodwin said. “We really gave ourselves a chance and fought through it to the end, and that’s what you ask for.” 

The Red Raiders immediately responded with six straight points, but Goodwin again had the answer. The Irish maintained this slim lead until there were under two minutes to play, but Texas Tech scored nine consecutive points to put the game away. 

“Everybody was down. I just wanted to make sure everybody keeps their heads up,” senior guard Prentiss Hubb said after the game. “I thought we had a great year through all the ups and downs.”

The Red Raiders didn’t hit a field goal for more than six minutes down the stretch, but the Irish continually put them on the free-throw line. Free throws ultimately proved to be the difference in the game. The Red Raiders knocked down 13 of 14 free-throw attempts in the second half, whereas the Irish only hit 4 of 9. 

“I’m disappointed because I don’t get to coach this nucleus anymore, and, man, were they energizing to work with every day,” Brey said. 

Notre Dame now heads back to South Bend and turns their attention to next year. The entire roster — with the exception of graduate transfer Paul Atkinson, Jr. — has the opportunity to return next year. “I told them. I said, we have a bunch of guys here that have to make some decisions,” Brey said. “And the big thing is no one has to make that decision fast.”

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