Laszewski’s career-high 33 not enough as Irish fall to Hokies
Liam Coolican | Monday, February 13, 2023
Just before halftime, graduate student forward Nate Laszewski drilled his fourth three-pointer of the half to tie the game at 40 for Notre Dame. Yet Virginia Tech’s Sean Pedulla raced down the court and beat the buzzer with a deep triple of his own, and the Hokies entered the break with the lead.
The final 10 seconds of the opening half would prove indicative of the game at large for the Irish Saturday afternoon. They never truly felt out of the contest, yet each time they made any sort of run, Virginia Tech would respond in kind.
Laszewski did everything he could to will the Irish to victory, but his career-high 33 points weren’t enough, as the Irish slumped to yet another disappointing ACC loss.
“I will tell him to not dwell on the loss and keep playing his backside off. He’s now playing for some salary and some money, and being scouted and all that stuff,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said after the game. “No one’s more disappointed in not winning than him.”
Laszewski showcased his prowess as a multilevel scorer throughout the contest. He knocked down six of his nine attempts from beyond the arc, and consistently found mismatches down low against smaller defenders. He broke his career high — which was set just three weeks earlier against Boston College — by grabbing an offensive rebound and converting the second-chance opportunity early in the second half.
Brey opted for the dual-forward lineup for the second consecutive contest, starting Laszewski and freshman Ven-Allen Lubin. Freshman phenom JJ Starling came off the bench once again after registering just two points in Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss to Georgia Tech while dealing with an illness.
Starling showed flashes of brilliance Saturday, converting several layups in the second half which ignited the home crowd, but he finished with just nine points on 4-10 shooting.
“Our mood has been pretty consistent because we’ve taken a lot of punches,” Brey said of the locker room after the game.
As has been the case all season, it was Notre Dame’s defense that was the culprit. The Irish, who allow the most points of any team in the ACC, turned in yet another miserable performance on that end of the floor as the Hokies shot better than 57% from the field and went to the line 25 times in the 93-87 victory.
“Can they score or what?” Brey said of the Hokies offense. “They’re just so old and they have a tempo, and quite frankly, I hope they miss a few.”
Virginia Tech forward Grant Basile, who came in averaging 15.6 points per game, picked up two early fouls and played just five minutes in the first half. Yet he was nearly unguardable in the final 20 minutes. He scored 28 second half points on 11-15, shooting on his way to a 33-point performance to match Laszewski.
Prior to the season, Brey was heavily recruiting the transfer portal in hopes of finding a replacement for big man Paul Atkinson Jr., who shined for the Irish last year as a graduate transfer from Yale. Basile, who starred for four years at Wright State before committing to Virginia Tech this offseason, was one of Brey’s top targets. The Irish even hosted him for an official visit in April.
“You see why I tried to get Basile, I did a great job on that recruiting” Brey said after the game.
Equally difficult for the Irish to defend was Hokies forward Justyn Mutts, who nearly had a triple-double, racking up 19 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists.
“Mutts is such a facilitator,” Brey said. “He’s a point-forward who is just really hard to deal with.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Irish. They travel to Durham, North Carolina, on Tuesday night to take on Duke, before heading to Charlottesville, North Carolina, next weekend for a matchup with No. 8 Virginia. Preseason No. 1 North Carolina comes to South Bend the following week.