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Notre Dame Basketball

Fitting end: ND seniors go out in style

March 7, 2020

When it was finished, and all three seniors had addressed an appreciative crowd Saturday afternoon inside Purcell Pavilion, their final message resonated in unison: Notre Dame basketball isn’t yet done with its 2019-20 season.

“I’ve really been taking it in the past few months, just how blessed I’ve been,” fifth-year senior Rex Pflueger, fighting back tears, told the crowd after the Irish capped their regular season with an 64-56 win against Virginia Tech. “It’s honestly just been a dream come true. All the highs and lows, I really appreciate all of them because they’ve made me the person I am today.

“Finally, thank you to my beautiful mother who’s in heaven right now. Without her love and strength, I wouldn’t be here today. Love you mom and we’re not done yet. Thank you.”

Pflueger’s mother, Rebecca, succumbed to her battle with brain cancer in September as Pflueger worked toward the conclusion of his rehab from the torn ACL he suffered in his left knee last season against Purdue.

The resilient Irish, including their senior trio of captains Pflueger, John Mooney and T.J. Gibbs, are guaranteed at least one more game. They’re the No. 7 seed in next week’s Atlantic Coast Conference and begin play Wednesday night, likely in a rematch against these same Hokies who were harassed into 6-for-26 shooting in the first half --- including a 2-for-20 start.

Mooney already has etched his name across myriad categories in the storied Irish program’s annals, most recently matching the single-season mark with 25 double-doubles and moving into a fourth-place spot on the school’s career double-doubles list with 46.

Gibbs was the catalyst in this win, scoring 15 of his game-best 22 points in the first half as Notre Dame built an insurmountable 28-17 lead at the break.

Together, the trio won for the 80th time since the onset of the 2016-17 season. They rallied this program, which teetered on something of an unprecedented abyss with a 2-6 start to ACC play, to a 10-10 finish that included an 8-4 close to the season.

That the Irish are a single victory away from the 15th 20-win season of Mike Brey’s two decades at the helm rests directly at the feet of this trio.

Mooney is the major-conference leader and now ACC record-holder in double-doubles in league play despite constantly being the focal point of the opposition on the interior. He rarely ever is the tallest player on the hardwood, and his dunks usually still arrive via the two-handed variety.

Yet Mooney never gets cheated on the floor. It’s perhaps the most common trait amongst the group.

Moments after having his pocket picked of the ball and with Virginia Tech attempting to rally, Pflueger was diving onto the court in an attempt to perhaps force a jump-ball ruling.

Instead, Pflueger drew a foul on the Hokies. Consider it a microcosm for his career; injuries and tragedy, no more than a loose ball, could stop the Dana Point, California, native from giving his all.

Gibbs heads into postseason play with 1,560 career points and is the program’s all-time scoring leader in its short-lived ACC residency. He ranks among the top 20 in other notable categories, including total career points, assists and steals. With five more against the Hokies, Gibbs now has 75 3-pointers on the season and 239 for his career.

“The thing I talked about, I didn’t talk about Greensboro, didn’t talk about our record in the league, whatever,” Brey said. “And I’ve been fortunate, there’s the 20th time you have seniors. When they speak and express themselves, it’s really what our program and our mission and our university is all about.

“Remember, all those young people I see, I get to know them when they’re 16, and to see the three of them get up on the microphone and talk from the heart, with class, I said to our young guys, ‘That’s what our program is all about.’ Really proud of them. It’s nice when you win on senior day and you can sub your seniors out for an ovation.”

It’s the least that could be done, for a group that’s given so much to Notre Dame.

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