Notre Dame men’s basketball (9-10, 1-7) returns to action on Saturday for another ACC battle with Boston College (8-11, 2-6). Both teams are looking to escape the league’s basement after poor starts in conference play. The Eagles check in on a four-game losing streak after playing their most difficult stretch of the season. After beating Notre Dame in January, they faced then-No. 16 Duke, Wake Forest, No. 17 Miami and national runner-up North Carolina. The Irish have dropped eight of their last ten, including Tuesday’s home debacle against Florida State. The Seminoles opened the game on a 13-0 run, then went up 32-8 before securing an 84-71 win at Purcell Pavilion.
A frustrating loss in one fell swoop
The Irish have dealt with their fair share of heartbreaking defeats this year, and their January 3 meeting with Boston College is near the top of the list. Already having dropped three conference games by that point, Notre Dame led 59-53 in the final four minutes. In dire need of a win, the Notre Dame offense collapsed down the stretch. Boston College rattled off a 15-2 run, as the Irish snapped into a 1-for-8 stretch from the field.
Ultimately, the Eagles flew away with a 70-63 win despite hitting only two three-pointers in the game. Graduate guard Dane Goodwin and freshman guard JJ Starling each buried three triples and scored 16 points for the Irish. On the Eagles’ side, Sophomore guard Jaeden Zackery and freshman guard and forward Prince Aligbe paced the scoring. Senior forward Quinten Post also collected nine boards to lead the Eagle’s 41-28 rebounding edge.
Beyond the one-sided finish, two more factors played into Notre Dame’s undoing in Chestnut Hill. Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin exited with an ankle injury just one minute into his appearance. That forced head coach Mike Brey to use inexperienced junior forward Matt Zona and play the rest of his seven-man rotation for extended minutes. The Irish simply ran out of gas, with their lack of established depth at the center of it. Notre Dame also had an uncharacteristically rotten night from the charity stripe. The Irish, currently a top-30 free-throw shooting team in the nation, went 5-for-10 in the loss. Starling capped off the struggle by missing three straight to kick off Notre Dame’s late scoring drought.
Irish defense seeks winning plays
Last year, Notre Dame’s game-by-game success often came down to how well they shot from outside. However, something has clearly been off this season. Sometimes, even when the Irish have cooked from three-point range, they have lost. Such was the case in Tallahassee on Dec. 21 and in Syracuse last Saturday. The issue has consistently stemmed from Notre Dame’s inability to seal games defensively. The Irish have created the least turnovers in the ACC by a wide margin, and they have yielded an alarmingly high opposing field goal percentage of 46.4. On Tuesday, the Irish defense fouled Florida State three-point shooters twice, turning momentum squarely in the Seminoles’ favor early. Notre Dame’s three-point and free-throw shooting ability can carry it for a while, but without defensive splash plays, they haven’t been able to finish the job.
Hammond’s hot streak
After leaving Niagara, it took a while for graduate transfer Marcus Hammond to make an impact in South Bend. A knee injury sidelined him until early December, and he played mostly limited minutes prior to Christmas. Now, he is finding his place in the Irish offense. In the last two games, Hammond has connected on 9 of 19 three-point attempts on the way to scoring 37 total points. Having played at least 19 minutes in seven consecutive games, the Queens native has earned Mike Brey’s trust. His scoring confidence is at a season-high, and Notre Dame needs it badly right now. Graduate guard Cormac Ryan is on an 8-for-38 stretch from distance despite his earlier success, and nobody else has stepped up yet in his stead.
Saturday’s tip-off is set for 2 p.m. EST at Purcell Pavilion. The game will be available on ESPN3 and the Notre Dame Radio Network. Following the weekend, the Irish will take a one-game trip to Raleigh to play NC State. Notre Dame will have another two-game home stand against Louisville and Wake Forest to transition into February.