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Notre Dame Basketball

Time to embrace these unselfish, resilient Irish

February 23, 2020

Back on January 27, two days after a heartbreaking 85-84 loss at Florida State, Notre Dame found itself staring up at not a couple or a half-dozen teams above it in the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball standings.

The Fighting Irish saw 11 other teams with better wins, North Carolina with an identical 2-6 league mark but the edge in a tiebreaker because of the Heels’ season-opening win against Notre Dame, and only two teams --- Miami and Wake Forest --- a half-game worse at 2-7.

Nobody in the ACC had fewer league wins and seven teams already had at least five conference wins, including then-league leader Louisville at 8-1.

Notre Dame did not yield. It did not quit. It did not bemoan its circumstances nor wallow in a “here-we-go-again” mindset that would have been understandable given the anything-but-four-leaf-clover luck this program has absorbed the past three winters.

No, the Fighting Irish began to play with mostly beautiful offensive symmetry and continued to share the basketball at an unparalleled pace across the national landscape.

And since January 29, when they knocked off Wake Forest, 90-80, here inside Purcell Pavilion where they won again on Sunday, the Irish have climbed up the ACC’s torturous ladder to an 8-8 league slate courtesy Sunday’s resounding 87-71 thumping of Miami.

Now, only four teams have more league wins. Today, four regular-season games to play, Notre Dame finds itself wedged amongst four teams in a fifth-place tie.

“I feel like this time, this moment right here, is what we’ve been waiting for,” said sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb. “I feel like we’ve all been in the gym, working our butts off. Trying to make that NCAA Tournament push.

“I think that the way that we all have our mindsets and want to play for each other and not ourselves, it’s really good for us.”

Sunday against Miami, which entered on its own three-game ACC winning streak, was case in point of Notre Dame’s unmatched unselfishness. The Irish had a perfect assist-to-turnover ratio in the first half; they handed out 13 helpers on 18 buckets and did not commit a single turnover.

They finished the game with 21 assists and just seven turnovers; it was a 21-to-4 ratio late before Mike Brey emptied his bench --- that means he played seldom-used Nik Djogo and early-year walk-on addition Elijah Morgan --- in the closing minutes of Notre Dame’s easiest league win in almost two years to the day.

“Yeah, that’s what they do,” bewildered Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “One of the differences is we’re a team that shoots a lot of shots off the bounce. They don’t. That’s why they get so many assists, because they’re a catch-and-shoot team.

“Guys like Prentiss Hubb and T.J. Gibbs, in particular, not only make those 3s but they make ’em from long distance. Like NBA range. Which stretches your defense out, which provides them the opportunity to post a (John) Mooney or a Juwan Durham inside.”

Mooney merely posted the 22nd double-double of his season and 43rd of his career with his 19 points and 12 rebounds. Gibbs matched his senior classmate with 19 points, and those two now have led Notre Dame in scoring this season a combined 14 times.

Meanwhile, Hubb’s stat-line reflected the ultimate in team-first basketball: He had 10 assists, 15 points, a scant two turnovers and played 34 minutes, second-most of the game’s 18 players and just one minute less than Gibbs.

Hubb’s efficiency rating was a plus-30.

“He is such a tough dude as we have seen,” Brey said of Hubb. “Bringing us off the mat a couple times to win games. …

“His decisions with the ball today. He was (Patrick) Mahomes today.”

The Irish today are, somehow, astoundingly postseason dreamers. They’re 17-10 overall, and that December win against UCLA in which the Irish dominated the Bruins looks better each week. UCLA just won at nationally-ranked Colorado Saturday night and clawed into a second-place tie in the PAC-12, just a half-game behind Arizona State for the lead.

Notre Dame has four more chances to state its case, and it entered play Sunday having climbed to 59th in the NCAA’s all-important NET Rankings after Monday’s dramatic comeback-win against North Carolina.

No one is saying the Irish’s odds are great, but games starting Wednesday against Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are supremely winnable. Florida State could find itself in a tough environment in Notre Dame’s penultimate home game on March 4 if the Irish keep playing well.

That this conversation is even taking place is testament to this team; its players and coaches for believing when folding was an easier option.

“I’m really proud of our group,” Brey said. “I think our leadership has been unbelievable. Those three guys (Gibbs, Mooney and Rex Pflueger) are playing to their max and leading to their max, those three captains.

“Nobody plays like us. Our assist to turnover annually has always been very good. These numbers are off-the-chart kind of stuff.”

Indeed, nobody shares like the Irish. And now they’re sharing postseason dreams with two weeks to play.

It’s all anyone can ask for after this ride.

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