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Notre Dame Basketball

Not buried yet: Surging Notre Dame torments Demon Deacons

February 2, 2021

Put the shovels away, snow or otherwise, for now as it pertains to Notre Dame's men's basketball team.

The Fighting Irish are neither buried nor ready to be tossed aside.

Matter of fact, they suddenly are playing remarkably efficient basketball.

Getting nine or more points from six players, including game-bests of 18 points and nine rebounds from surging post Juwan Durham, Notre Dame is a winner of four of its last five games with Tuesday's 79-58 shellacking of Wake Forest inside Purcell Pavilion.

Four times Durham dunked on the Demon Deacons as the Irish (7-9, 4-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored the final three points of the opening half and the first 16 of the second half to blow open the league affair.

“I just go up and say, 'Don't be soft' to myself, pretty much,” said Durham, the graduate-student who's averaged 15 points in each of the Irish's last four wins. “Just try to play through the contact and translate over to defense. Just helps me have a more comfortable game and a more confident game.”

Matt Zona's late dunk off a Cormac Ryan assist prompted a loud and jovial celebration from Prentiss Hubb near the Irish baseline, and Elijah Morgan's run-out steal-and-layup at the buzzer lifted the Irish to a 21-point win in which nine players scored.

Hubb, scoreless in the first half, nonetheless was a master distributor for the Irish and posted an in-control double-double – 10 points, 10 assists. Notre Dame handed out 18 assists against just eight turnovers.

“I think he's been playing with a great edge, starting with Boston College,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of Hubb. “You know what's interesting, this is the first time he's had two fouls (in the first half) and I've taken him out of the game. He's not gotten in foul trouble. I wanted to see how we played without him, and we did a good job.

“In the second half, I think he sensed, 'I really gotta play downhill.' And he hits that 3 to start the half. He set a great tone for us. And he's been doing this double-double kind of territory thing.”

Cormac Ryan added 13 points off the bench, and Dane Goodwin had 10 points and four rebounds. The Irish got nine apiece from Trey Wertz and Nik Djogo.

Durham established the early tone, and the Irish again followed up their dismantling of Pitt last Saturday with another complete effort. They outrebounded the Demon Deacons (5-8, 2-8) 44-31, outscored them 38-24 in the paint and also commanded a 26-15 edge in bench scoring.

Though the Demon Deacons committed just six turnovers, they were harassed into 34.4% shooting from the field (22-for-64) and also mustered just two fastbreak-points under first-year coach Steve Forbes, hired in spring 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as Wake athletics director John Currie fired incumbent coach Danny Manning.

For all of Notre Dame's offensive excellence in this win, Brey again pointed to his team's rather newfound defensive resolve. The Irish defense coerced Pitt and Wake into combined 45-for-137 shooting from the floor in this two-game mini-streak.

“Our defense, our guys have really invested in it,” Brey said. “They've seen it pay dividends. I think we had 17 score-stops tonight; 24 the other night (at Pitt). When we can get stops and get out a little early on you, the way we pass it and feel the game, it certainly helps us on the offensive end.

“I'm really proud of them, and I thought we needed to do it (at home). We've kind of been better on the road, quite frankly. To kind of get into that rhythm in the second half offensively, combined with how we were defending, I think was important. To do it again, you feel like you're playing well on this back-half of the season. We've done it before, this nucleus has done it before surging in February.”

Notre Dame gets a second chance this season to notch a third-straight win this season Saturday at Georgia Tech. Tip is 8 p.m. (ACC Network).

“I think we know what we're capable of,” said Ryan, who's eight-for-11 from 3-point range and, like Durham has 32 combined points in the Irish's consecutive wins. “We believe in ourselves. We're a great team, and I think it's starting to come together for us. It's exciting. We're excited about it.”

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