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Notre Dame Basketball

With Nod to Kobe, Rex Helps Irish Win

February 1, 2020

His jersey bore its standard “0” on the back, but at least for one shot Saturday afternoon inside Purcell Pavilion, Rex Pflueger did his best to pay homage to the late, great Kobe Bryant.

The baseline, turnaround-jumper that he drilled with barely seven minutes to play was something Pflueger had practiced at length growing up a mere 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles in Dana Point, California.

“That was a shot I used to shoot a lot as a kid, emulating Kobe Bryant growing up where I was from,” said Pflueger, giving a nod to the NBA great Bryant who died along with eight other passengers last Sunday in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California, 90 miles from Pflueger’s hometown. “It was pretty funny, too; I was just telling (John) Mooney, when I got (the defender) into the post, right away my mind was like, ‘Kobe.’

“I knew it. I was going to shoot that shot. It felt good to see it go in.”

Notre Dame made 23 other field goals, 23 free throws and myriad clutch plays down the stretch to sweep its season series against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Georgia Tech with an 80-72 win before a matinee crowd of 8,240.

Honoring Kelly Tripucka, a former three-time All-American, by hoisting his No. 44 into the school’s Ring of Honor, the Fighting Irish (13-8, 4-6 ACC) are winners of two-straight league games and three of their past five going into Wednesday’s tilt against Pittsburgh that wraps up this three-game homestand.

They’re moving into Wednesday after getting the 17th double-double of the season from Mooney, whose 10 rebounds and career-high-tying 28 points leave him the 64th player in Notre Dame history to eclipse 1,000 career points. T.J. Gibbs added 19, Dane Goodwin 14 off the bench and Pflueger closed with 13 to lead a quartet of Irish in double figures.

“We’re a confident group now, especially in close games,” said Mooney. “We’re confident to close some out now. We’re just going to take it one game at a time. We’re 1-0.

“We’ve got another game coming up on Wednesday to make it 2-0.”

After trailing by as many as four points in the first half, Notre Dame began rallying back near the intermission and creating separation on the second of Mooney’s two 3-pointers minutes into the second for a 53-48 lead.

In a game featuring 13 ties and nine lead changes, the Irish led for the game’s final 15 minutes, 22 seconds with Pflueger hitting consecutive free throws --- part of the season-best 23 the Irish made on the afternoon and boosting them to 45 points from the stripe in wins this week against the Yellow Jackets (10-12, 4-7) and Wake Forest.

Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb, Mooney and Pflueger each hit two triples, and Gibbs’ work driving to the basket and on mid-range jumpers helped Notre Dame to its ninth game this season of 80 or more points. The Irish are 7-2 in those contests.

“I think we can build on this,” said ND coach Mike Brey. “If you can hang around .500 in this league, you’re going to be within striking distance down the stretch. Something to build on.”

Georgia Tech outrebounded the Irish by 10, 42-32, and pummeled its hosts on the inside with a 44-18 points-in-the-paint edge.

It wasn’t enough for the Yellow Jackets to overcome what coach Josh Pastner doubled-down as the top offense in the ACC.

“I think they’re just a really, really good offensive team,” Pastner said. “Maybe the best offensive team in this league. They’re highly skilled, very well-coached and they’re just … you can’t leave points on the board because they’ll make you pay for it based on their offensive skill-set.”

Pastner also praised the work of Mooney, the NCAA’s leading rebounder at 13.4 boards per game, and prepared to nudge Mooney to the next stage of his basketball career.

“I think Mooney is excellent,” Pastner said. “I’m a big fan of Mooney. Too bad Billy Donovan didn’t stay in college (at Florida, where Mooney could have ended up instead of Notre Dame) because (Mooney) is a Georgia Tech killer. …

“I just can’t wait for him to graduate.”

Notre Dame will try to win three-straight league games for the first time since a seven-day stretch in December 2017-January 2018 when it hosts Pittsburgh Wednesday (6:30, ACC Network).

Legend Tripucka Gets Ring Honor

ISD Video | Kelly Tripucka Ring of Honor Ceremony

ISD Video | Mike Brey Post-Georgia Tech

ISD Video | John Mooney & Rex Pflueger Post-Georgia Tech

ISD Video | Georgia Tech HC Josh Pastner Post-Notre Dame

Irish Sports Daily
Final Box Score 


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