Irish fall flat in regular season finale
Liam Coolican | Monday, March 6, 2023
Mathematically, Saturday night’s regular-season finale at Clemson meant nothing for Notre Dame men’s basketball. The Irish were already locked into the 14th seed of the ACC Tournament and a first-round matchup with 11th-seeded Virginia Tech. Emotionally, however, it meant a whole lot more.
Coming off an electrifying upset victory over Pittsburgh in head coach Mike Brey’s final home game in South Bend, it seemed the Irish were finally playing the type of basketball they were expected to play at the start of the season. Saturday’s game was a chance to prove that. A win would have allowed the Irish to head into the ACC Tournament with much-needed momentum.
Instead, it was a major letdown right from the opening tip. Clemson needed a victory to secure a coveted double bye in next week’s tournament. They certainly looked like a team with something to play for. Notre Dame, on the other hand — in a season full of abysmal defensive performances — turned in one of their worst of the year. Notre Dame never led once, as Clemson seemingly scored at will throughout the contest.
The Tigers started the game on a 20-3 run over the first seven minutes. Notre Dame converted on just one of their first ten attempts from the field. The Irish did eventually start shooting at a better clip, but by the time they found an offensive rhythm, it was far too late. They never got within 15 points of the Tigers again and trailed by 20 or more for nearly the entire second half. Clemson cruised to an eventual 87-64 victory.
All five Tiger starters scored in double figures — forwards Ian Schieffelin and Hunter Tyson were particularly dominant against a Notre Dame front court that has struggled to defend talented bigs all year. Schieffelin scored 16 points in just 18 minutes on a perfect 7-7 night from the field, while Walker also finished with 16 and had a double-double in the first half alone.
For the Irish, Cormac Ryan had a game-high 19 points, but he was inefficient from the field, especially from deep. The graduate student guard, typically one of Notre Dame’s most consistent three-point shooting threats, was just 2-10 from beyond the arc Saturday.
The Irish were without JJ Starling for the third straight contest due to a bruised knee. With his availability for the ACC Tournament in Greensboro seemingly uncertain, along with his future in South Bend, it appears the star freshman guard may have already played his final game in an Irish uniform.
Junior forward Matt Zona was one of the only bright spots for Notre Dame. He has seen his intermittent playing time increase as the year has gone on and took advantage Saturday, scoring 10 points — including two three-pointers — and grabbing five boards. It was the first time in his career he has scored in double figures.
The Irish have still yet to win a game away from Purcell Pavilion in 12 tries this season. They’ll have to hope they can buck that trend — and recapture a little bit of that magic from Wednesday’s home finale — if they want any hope of making some noise in Greensboro.