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Notre Dame Basketball

Irish drop third-straight ACC opener, fall to Duke

December 16, 2020

Duke had not played in eight days, had been abysmal in its last outing against Illinois and had all that time off to stew over a pair of early-season losses to Illinois and Michigan State.

All those factors reversed Wednesday for the Blue Devils' ACC opener against Notre Dame inside Purcell Pavilion.

On the back of a decisive, 18-6 second half blitz, No. 21 Duke blew open a 55-50 game and past the Fighting Irish, 75-65.

“I was disappointed in our defensive positioning most of the night,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “I thought we could sit down in a stance better. We never did that enough to make it interesting.

“Every time we got it to five or two possessions, I don't think we ever really had five guys playing defense together. Disappointing because I thought we could give it a better shot.”

It's the third-straight year that Notre Dame (2-3, 0-1) has opened conference play with a loss; Duke (3-2, 1-0) notched its first win since Dec. 4.

“I think they know it's coming at us hard, and certainly we play a team (Purdue) on Saturday who beat Ohio State, a team we couldn't beat,” Brey said. “It's just coming at us fast, and you know, it's … I do like that I have Nik (Djogo) and Trey (Wertz), and Matt (Zona) and Tony (Sanders Jr.) didn't play as much because we kind of wanted to try that rotation. I liked what Nik and Trey gave us.”

Matthew Hurt paced a quartet of Blue Devils in double figures with 18; D.J. Steward added 16 and seven rebounds.

The Irish got a game-high 25 from Dane Goodwin, the junior guard's most points in an ACC game and just two short of his career-high mark set last season against Detroit Mercy. Prentiss Hubb added a dozen, but the remainder of the Irish's starters combined for just 19 points.

“He's playing really well; I mean he's been playing great for us,” Brey said of Goodwin. “And he tried to carry us tonight. And kind of did. But if Hubb and (Cormac) Ryan can't get into a rhythm, we're going to be in trouble.”

Even as it added Wertz into the mix, after the NCAA earlier on Wednesday issued a blanket clearance to all transfers for immediate eligibility, Notre Dame saw its bench production in a 16-0 edge late in the second half before Wertz closed with nine points in his Irish debut.

“It was definitely tough to kind of stay mentally ready because you just didn't know what was going to happen,” said Wertz, a Charlotte, N.C., native who transferred to Notre Dame in the summer. “I tried my best to go into it like I was playing; I prepared like I was playing, even though we didn't find out till later this afternoon.”

Added Brey, “I thought he really did everything we asked of him and got more comfortable in the second half and may have been our best defensive guard, quite frankly, which makes it interesting as far as we can yank somebody of those three starters if they're not a stance.

“I am pleased about him getting minutes and getting comfortable playing with our uniform on. He's going to be a big, big part of things going forward.”

Duke's athleticism and length hampered the Irish early in the game, as the Blue Devils broke a 2-2 tie with a long Steward 3-pointer and never again saw Notre Dame get even in the opening half.

The Blue Devils led by double digits on five different first-half instances, including a 10-point led less than seven minutes into the game, 17-7, and lastly by 11 on Jordan Goldwire's layup for a 39-28 edge just before the break.

Duke shot 55% from the field in the first half (18-for-33) and hammered the Irish on the boards, 17-10 The Blue Devils had more defensive rebounds (11) than their hosts had total in the opening half, and they also commanded a 20-8 edge on points in the paint.

The Irish return to action Saturday in the annual 'Crossroads Classic' in Indianapolis against rival Purdue. Tip is 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2).


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