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Notre Dame Basketball

Cavalier perimeter defense kills Irish in loss

January 13, 2021

Every team, inevitably, endures a scoring drought in any given game.

The problem for Notre Dame is when it turns the basketball hardwood into a dust bowl.

Wednesday at Virginia might as well have been somewhere on the Kansas plains.

The Fighting Irish had an early five-minute scoring drought in the opening half, connected on just one of their first SIXTEEN 3-point attempts and were surgically dismissed, 80-68d, by the No. 18 Cavs (8-2, 4-0 ACC) inside John Paul Jones Arena.

“They made big jump-shots in the first 10 minutes,” Irish coach Mike Brey said on his post-game Zoom. “We made none of our open ones. And the game was kind of over after that.”

Notre Dame (3-8, 0-5 ACC for first time ever) trailed by as many as 24 points less than eight minutes into the second half before it whittled Virginia's insurmountable lead down to 10 on a couple instances.

Yet the Cavaliers each time found an answer – usually from long-range. Virginia scorched the nets at 12-for-22 from 3-point range while the Irish made just 22 total field goals and hit on just five-for-22 from deep.

“It makes it hard,” Brey said of the Irish's lacking perimeter defense after Virginia Tech used a dominant rebounding effort to subdue Notre Dame. “These two teams that beat us are better than us.

“If we played them again, and we don't play them again, in late-February, maybe we could close the gap a little bit. But we're not, we can't beat them yet. I've been very matter-of-fact with our guys.

“We're not going to sit there and jump off buildings. We're going to try and come back and figure out how to get one league win. I've used this speech over and over again. Quite frankly, I'm a little tired of using it. Because when you coach at Notre Dame, you use it a number of times.”

Brey was pleased with the fight of the Irish in the second half, when Virginia's torrid shooting and Notre Dame's own offensive miscues could have led to a flat-out embarrassing final margin.

Instead, Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan got untracked for a team-best 16 points – all in 15 minutes of his second-half time on the court. Juwan Durham had kept the Irish viable with 10 first-half points. Trey Wertz had 13 off the bench; Nate Laszewski continued his steady play with a dozen.

“I think just trusting our work and our teammates, and just continuing to trust in ourselves,” Ryan said as keys for Notre Dame moving forward. “It's just a matter of going out and executing.”

Virginia big-man Jay Huff, a 7-foot-2 senior with range all over the floor, once again brutalized the Irish. After he scored 15 points in the Cavs' 66-57 win at Notre Dame earlier this season, Huff taxed the Irish for 18 in this contest – including a four-for-eight ledger from behind the arc.

In two games against the Irish this season, Huff tallied 33 points in less than 48 total minutes on the floor. Sam Hauser added 15 points for the Cavs, who also got 15 off the bench from Casey Morsell.

Up next for the Irish is a return home and another opportunity to break the program's longest season-opening winless streak in ACC play. Notre Dame on Saturday hosts Boston College, which is just 3-9 overall and has but one ACC win – a resounding 84-62 dismantling Tuesday night of Miami. Tip Saturday is 4 p.m. inside Purcell Pavilion (ACC Network has the TV broadcast).

“As I told them in the last media timeout, I've been in this position many of times,” Brey said. “When you are flat on the mat, and you try to come off, when you do come off, those are some of the great memories of my tenure at Notre Dame. When you're jammed up.

“And we are, we are flat on the mat.”

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