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Notre Dame Basketball

Notre Dame skid to ranked teams continues, hits 25 in loss to Cavs

December 30, 2020

The formula really doesn't have many variables.

Success for Notre Dame's men's basketball team hinges on a very small set of components.

Chief amongst them is balanced scoring from the Fighting Irish's starters.

Four of them didn't make a bucket in the first half Wednesday night at home against No. 23 Virginia.

As a result, Notre Dame's program-worst losing skid against ranked opponents reached the quarter-century mark.

Virginia made the Irish's early offensive woes and its own resourcefulness stand up in a 66-57 win inside Purcell Pavilion.

“We've been here a bunch,” said Notre Dame post Nate Laszewski, whose 28 points established a new career-best and led both teams. “We've got to keep getting better. Keep practicing hard. Believing that eventually we're going to pull one out. We've just got to keep believing, keep working hard in practice, though, and keep believing in each other.”

Though the game never was tied after it was 2-all in the opening minute, Notre Dame whittled what was an 11-point deficit down to a single point on a pair of second-half occasions – the last at 47-46 – and also twice had chances to tie or take the lead with a 3-pointer.

“Virginia made every big shot,” Irish coach Mike Brey, now 1-10 all-time against the Cavs, said. “(Kihei) Clark, who's such a winner, made big plays. I love that we gave our ... It was Cormac (Ryan's) 3 and (Prentiss) Hubb's 3 that were halfway down, in-and-out. You gotta make one of those to kind of get it to game situations. They came back on the other end and made it.”

Notre Dame (3-5) fell to 0-2 in ACC play and has not defeated a ranked team since it toppled then-No. 6 Wichita State in the 2017 Maui Invitational.

The Cavaliers (5-2) were buoyed early by Jay Huff, who scored 13 of his 15 in the first half, and Clark in the second half, as the diminutive, 5-foot-9 guard worked the Irish for 19 points – 14 of them in the second half.

The loss dropped Notre Dame to 0-6 all-time at home against Virginia, which is 15-2 against the Irish, and saw the Irish lose by nine or more points for the fourth time this season. Notre Dame has lost to No. 17 Michigan State, No. 20 Duke, No. 23 Virginia and No. 25 Ohio State, in addition to a Purdue team that is 7-4 after its road loss Tuesday at Rutgers.

Defeat spoiled a splendid performance from Notre Dame front-court players Laszewski and Juwan Durham, who combined for 47 points and 11 boards.

Laszewski's career-best 28 points came as the junior forward flourished in all facets; Laszewski hit eight of 11 from the floor, eight-for-10 at the free-throw line and four of seven from 3-point range.

“Playing the ball-screen with Prentiss was really good,” Laszewski said. “He did a good job driving and throwing it back to me. I think Juwan did a terrific job when he was getting doubled in seeing the floor.

“I just keep moving and taking my shot when I have it.”

Transfer guard Trey Wertz, who has sparked the Irish since he was cleared on Dec. 16 as part of the NCAA's blanket waiver-approval process for the remainder of this athletics calendar year, was injured before the half and never returned. The Charlotte, N.C., native and Santa Clara newcomer hobbled from the court on the arms of Notre Dame staffers and did not place any weight on his left leg.

Brey said Wertz would be out “a week or two” with the injury.

What the Irish must now do, both in the short-term and into the remainder of the season, is find a way to build off of the offensive rhythm it developed in this game with the Durham-Laszewski front-court while also getting additional perimeter production.

Notre Dame's backcourt contributed just 10 points in the loss, and Dane Goodwin hit the only 3-pointer aside from Laszewski's four makes.

“I think our guards did a good job in the second half of taking what the defense gave them, which was Juwan and Nate a lot and every now and then a kick-out to our guards,” Brey said. “And our guards drove it.

“We can't force stuff. I thought we forced stuff in the first half. We can't force stuff, especially against this level of competition. And then in the second half, I thought we were in a pretty good offensive rhythm. It's not like we've got to run stuff to get Dane doing; I think we have enough guys who can score that we've got to take what the defense gives them. I think Cormac Ryan is still kind of finding himself, and we've got to help him.”

Brey is hoping that the ongoing mandatory ACC COVID-19 testing doesn't rob Notre Dame of its scheduled game Saturday at Pittsburgh. The Panthers' game scheduled Tuesday night against Duke was shelved because of COVID-19 issues in the Pitt program.

“I hope we play the Pittsburgh game,” Brey said. “Hell is the game on? …

“Now if that were to happen, I'm going to call Duquesne or Robert Morris. I actually said the other day we could do a home-and-home with DePaul. Bus-ride regional games. Butler, Marquette. That's the craziest thing with how your mind is working with scheduling right now. I hope we can go to Pitt and play.

“What if we can't go to Pittsburgh? Could somebody play us Sunday here? And not a league game. Or maybe it is a league game. The one thing the ACC has done, because you had the football situation where two teams went to Florida State to play football and never played, but they chartered a plane, and we've had maybe a little bit of that happen in basketball. We're really trying to stop that from happening. That is such a waste of resources.

“You know what? If that were to happen, I'm going to call Duquesne and see if they're open, or Robert Morris. Like that's how I think now. If we get trapped there, could Robert Morris play Sunday? Do they have an opening? Do they need a game? I acutally said the other day we could do a home-and-home with DePaul. Bus-ride. Butler, Marquette. I hope we can go to Pitt and play.”

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