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Notre Dame Basketball

Irish Tumble in Winston-Salem

February 29, 2020

That deflating sound Saturday evening might have been Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament bubble hopes.

After winning three in a row and seven of their last nine, the Fighting Irish couldn’t overcome host Wake Forest in a potentially crippling, 84-73 loss in front of 8,870 at LJVM Coliseum.

Wake Forest (13-15, 6-12 Atlantic Coast Conference) got a career-best-day from Olivier Sarr, who torched Notre Dame (18-11, 9-9 ACC) for 30 points and 17 rebounds as the Demon Deacons capped a perfect week after Tuesday’s triple-overtime win against powerhouse Duke.

“Well, give them credit. We had no answers for the big fella tonight,” ND coach Mike Brey said. “He is so gifted. We tried a little bit of everything. We played a lot of zone, and that got us back in it. But then they made three timely 3s that kind of broke our back, so something like that, you’ve got to give them credit.

Leading just 70-68 after Notre Dame had rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to take a trio of one-point leads in the second half, Wake Forest got a game-defining 10-0 run inside the final three minutes to put away the Irish, who had claimed a 90-80 win in the two teams’ first meeting this season.

It marked Wake Forest’s first back-to-back ACC wins in three years, as embattled sixth-year coach Danny Manning tries to save his job down the season’s close.

“We just want to create some momentum going into the ACC Tournament,” Manning told ACC Network. “And hopefully we can be playing our best basketball going into the ACC Tournament.”

Despite Sarr’s breakout-day and horrendous 3-point shooting, Notre Dame erased what once was a 39-23 deficit just before the intermission with its characteristic gritty work out of the break.

Paced by John Mooney’s 24-point, 17-rebound performance, the Fighting Irish tied the score at 55 --- the game’s first tie since 6-6 --- and took three separate leads on buckets from T.J. Gibbs and John Mooney, as well as two free throws from Dane Goodwin.

But what little Sarr did not do for the Demon Deacons, Brandon Childress and Chaundee Brown often delivered on Wake Forest’s senior day. The duo combined for 29 points, including 5 3-pointers, to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists between them in a combined 72 minutes on the court.

“We just really couldn’t deal with the inside-outside combination of Sarr and Childress and Brown,” Brey said.

The Fighting Irish got 25 combined points off the bench from Goodwin and Nate Laszewski, but they got just a combined 24 points from the quartet of starters who flanked Mooney.

Notre Dame was battered on the boards, 43-33, and also connected on just 15 of 24 free throws. The Demon Deacons converted 23-for-27 at the stripe.

Brey bemoaned his team’s missed opportunities at the charity stripe as well as its inability to so much as even slow down Sarr.

“I don’t know if we did a good job preparing to come down on (Sarr) and double him early,” Brey said. “We couldn’t guard him 1-on-1. Our best post defender tonight was Nate Laszewski; our senior big guys didn’t guard anybody tonight. I love them to death but they didn’t play any defense. That’s why we started Nate in the second half and said just foul the heck out of him if you have to.

“(Sarr) was physical on them and we played some zone. We don’t have any answers for him and I guess we better figure some out in case we see them in Greensboro, now that you say that.”

Ah, but first Notre Dame hosts a pair of regular-season ending ACC tilts next week before the league’s tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The Fighting Irish host ACC co-leader Florida State, a surprising loser Saturday afternoon at Clemson, on Wednesday night at 9 (ESPN2). They wrap up their regular season inside Purcell Pavilion next Saturday at 2 against Virginia Tech (ACC Network).

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