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Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Short-Handed Irish Lose Identity

January 8, 2020

For the second half, last Saturday at Syracuse and the first half Wednesday at North Carolina State, Notre Dame steadied itself enough even without Rex Pflueger to be in a position for a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference road wins.

Potentially heady stuff for a Fighting Irish squad that had not recorded back-to-back road wins in league play in 35 months.

But the fifth-year senior and captain Pflueger did not play against the Wolfpack due to a bone bruise, and it was too much for the Irish.

Alas, Notre Dame was uncharacteristically sloppy as it handled the ball and couldn’t keep the Wolfpack off the boards in the second half of an 73-68 loss.

Leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio entering the game at 1.96, the Irish instead committed 14 turnovers and passed out just 11 assists.

Clinging to a 60-55 lead, Notre Dame saw its host turn the Irish’s airball on the offensive end into a three-chance possession on the Pack’s rim. The third time was Braxton Beverly’s 3-pointer that sliced the margin to 60-58.

N.C. State then outscored the Irish (10-5, 1-3 ACC) the remainder of the game.

“The possession that’s kind of … we give up two offensive rebounds and then Beverly hits a 3,” ND coach Mike Brey said. “That’s like the basketball gods are saying, ‘Now you don’t deserve to win.’ I told our guys, ‘You’ve got to get that one.’ It’s almost kind of a foregone conclusion.”


That was it. A sixth man is all the Fighting Irish used off the bench, hearkening back to the painful memories of a year ago when Rex Pflueger’s season-ending injury and other maladies kept Notre Dame playing short-handed.

Pflueger could not go in this game with what Brey earlier this week termed a bone-bruise in Pflueger’s surgically repaired leg, and Robby Carmody was lost early-season to a season-ending ACL injury.

With both those players sidelines and Nik Djogo not called upon against the Pack, Notre Dame used only starters Juwan Durham, T.J. Gibbs, Dane Goodwin, Prentiss Hubb and John Mooney, as well as Nate Laszewski off the bench.

It was the 10th start of Goodwin’s career, but his first of the 2019-20 season. Notre Dame got 52 combined points from the Gibbs-Hubb-Money trio but just 16 from its other three contributors.


Notre Dame outrebounded the larger and deeper Wolfpack through the opening half.

But N.C. State seized control in large part due to its interior work --- rebounding and scoring --- in the final 20 minutes. The Pack outrebounded the Irish, 22-18, in the second half, shot all 17 of their free-throw attempts after the break and got a monster 16-point, nine-rebound outburst from post D.J. Funderburk.

“We were in zone, so it is a little hard to block out when you’re in zone and he’s getting a free run to the rim,” Brey said. “He’s such an athletic dude, and he has been playing well for them. I was worried about him. He’s really good, and their physicality up on that backboard was a worry going in. We held it off for most of the game, until in the second half.

“Funderburk’s really playing well for them. He’s a man.”


Riding its strong 3-point shooting to as much as a nine-point first-half lead, Notre Dame connected on 5 of 7 from long-range in the first half.

The Irish then went ice-cold in the second half when they made just 1-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc.

N.C. State hit four 3-pointers in each half.

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