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Irish fall in second half against Wake Forest, drop to 2-10 in ACC

| Monday, February 6, 2023

Entering this matchup against Wake Forest, Notre Dame hoped to make last week’s game against Louisville a building point that could flip momentum for the team rather than an outlier for the season.

In the first part of the game, that appeared to be the case. With under 10 minutes to go in the half, the Irish led Wake Forest 16-4, with active hands-on defense forcing turnovers and creating easy points on the other end of the court. This resembled the efforts of last week, as Notre Dame forced 8 turnovers in the first half to jump out to a 22-point lead over the Cardinals. However, discipline from Wake Forest, and sloppy efforts from the Irish, led to a different story.

Despite holding their opponents to 4 points halfway through the first, the Irish failed to be clinical on offense. The team was unable to make a single three-pointer in the first half, shooting a combined 4 for 21 beyond the arc at the end of the game. Notre Dame’s inefficiency with the ball became more apparent as Wake Forest began to heat up, with the traveling team showing their scoring prowess in the second half. The 12-point lead in the first half was the biggest for the Irish in their eventual 81-64 loss on Saturday afternoon.

“In the two games we won in the league, the other team helped us a bit. [Wake Forest] isn’t going to help you,” head coach Mike Brey explained when asked about his team’s margin of error. “We played some zone, we played some matchups, that helped us last Saturday but not so much today.”

Brey’s comments highlighted that Notre Dame couldn’t maintain their first-half defensive prowess as Wake Forest attacked the deficiencies in the Irish scheme. “We were switching everything and they turned it over a bunch, but then they opened the half and banged one from up top. It just breaks the ice and now they’re feeling good.”

The beginning of a hot streak for Wake Forest became apparent early into the second as Damari Monsanto connected three three-point attempts in the first two minutes of the half. Monsanto led the Demon Deacons in scoring with 28 points, making 8 shots behind the arc. Monsanto’s shooting tirade was unfortunate for the Irish, who were able to contain his star running mate Tyree Appleby for the majority of the game. However, cool heads prevailed for the away team as effective ball movement allowed them to break apart the Notre Dame defense.

“I guess I’ve matured over the years because I probably would have lost my mind about ten years ago. Ten minutes to go in the first half and we had four points. It wasn’t just not making shots; we had 11 turnovers early and we’re not really a team that turns it over in league play,” head coach Steve Forbes for the Demon Deacons said.

Notre Dame’s early lead was dependent on their ability to create turnovers as most of their points came off of transition. Two exemplary plays from graduate guard Marcus Hammond showed how efficiency on one side of the floor can affect the other. After a block on Appleby, Hammond raced down the floor for a layup on the other end. Similarly, Hammond playing the passing lanes allowed him to convert a steal from a bad Monsanto pass into fast break points. Both of these plays helped Notre Dame to find an easy bucket to convert into two. Wake Forest’s character prevented the Irish from getting more open looks later on though.

“We scored 77 points from the 10-minute mark on. We played really good offense and pretty good defense for the whole game,” Forbes continued. 

This loss proved to be characteristic for Notre Dame this season, as last week’s game against Louisville was the end to a previous four-game losing streak. The primary issue over this span of games is the team’s defense. Notre Dame allowed over 80 points in 5 of their past 6 losses, a mark that they have only reached once over their 12 games in their conference. Despite a team-high 18 points from graduate forward Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame has shown that they do not have the firepower on offense to win a shootout against their opponents. When asked about his individual stats and the team’s result, Laszewski said, “I really don’t care what happens [with my performance], we just want to win games in the end.”

Notre Dame’s issues on both offense and defense have become exacerbated in recent games due to injuries. Both freshmen big-men Ven-Allen Lubin and Dom Campbell were on the sideline in Saturday’s contest, limiting the Irish to a seven-man rotation for the game. Campbell, who played in place of the injured Lubin against Louisville, suffered both a right and left inflamed Achilles tendon midway through practice on Friday.

“It’s been an issue with both Achilles’ tendons. One is really swollen and we want to be safe because we don’t want a rupture,” said Brey.

When asked about his timetable for return, Brey was direct, saying ‘probably two weeks.’ The head coach later stated that he was unclear when Lubin will make his reappearance on the court. These late-season injuries come at a bad time for the Irish, with a possibility of the season-ending before either player has the opportunity to return.

However, Brey has worked around these injuries, expecting his bench to step up to the challenge when called upon. One notable substitution in this game was junior forward Matt Zona, who provided the Irish with some structure on the interior.

“Matt Zona, I love you. We’re going to play you, get on in there and play,” said Brey. Zona had multiple season highs in Saturday’s game, with 4 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes. 

After Saturday’s match, the Irish hit the road, looking to extend Georgia Tech’s loss streak to ten games this Wednesday.

“We’ll go to Atlanta and keep on playing and you’d love to see if you can get a bit of momentum. It’s a group that has ownership of themselves. They come in and keep trying,” said Brey.

Notre Dame will get another chance at Wake Forest in their rematch three weeks away, Brey hopes they’ll be able to swing some momentum in their direction before then.

The Irish play Georgia Tech on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. EST.

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