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Notre Dame Basketball

Streak-busters: Notre Dame bounces No. 11 FSU on Senior Day

March 6, 2021
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Over.

Ding-dong, the streak is dead.

For more than 39 months, 1,200 days to be formal, from Nov. 22, 2017, until tip-off Saturday inside Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame endured loss after loss after loss until there was nearly 30 in a row against ranked opponents.

No more.

On senior day and in the last regular-season game of this COVID-crashed, unprecedented campaign, Notre Dame built an early lead, withstood countless charges from No. 11 Florida State and ultimately prevailed in an 83-73 victory.

The Fighting Irish (10-14, 7-11 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored first on Prentiss Hubb's perimeter 3 and never trailed in leading wire-to-wire – including by as many as 20 points and, for the game's final 37-plus minutes, never by fewer than four points. Six Notre Dame players scored at least nine points, paced by Hubb's game-high 22 as seniors Nik Djogo and Juwan Durham exited on a winning note.

When the Seminoles (15-4, 11-4) did pull within four late, 74-70 and 2 minutes, 34 seconds on the clock, these Irish did not wilt as they had done repeatedly – both during this season and amidst this losing streak to ranked teams.

The resolve in this triumph actually began to manifest itself Wednesday night, after Notre Dame was blown out at home by North Carolina State and when the fifth-year senior Djogo began to text his head coach and teammates.

“It wasn't really anything to do about us staying together,” said Djogo, the only remaining player from Notre Dame's win three-plus years ago against then-No. 6 Wichita State to win the Maui Invitational. “I was just telling the guys that I had their back. Wednesday night, I was really antsy, I was frustrated, I was complaining a lot. As a leader on this team, and a guy who prides himself on putting the tam first, I kind of felt embarrassed on how I was treating things.

“So I first sent Coach (Mike) Brey a text telling him that I got his back with everything going on and we're going to come out fighting on Saturday. The kind of team performance I gave on Wednesday wasn't something they would expect of me and I would change the way I approached the game on Saturday and I ended up doing that.”

Djogo's example was established from the opening tip. The Hamilton, Ontario, native had eight points in his first eight minutes on the floor. That stretch included an emphatic dunk and another dunk that went through the net but bounced off an FSU defender's head; Djogo still earned a trip to the free-throw line.

And just like that, the Irish led by double-digits in less than six minutes.

“I think it was very important; a lot of times during this season, when we've kind of been down in the dumps, we've said a bunch of things but we really haven't actually done it on the court,” Djogo said of his ability to back up his proclamation. “I was like, all the stuff that I sent on Wednesday wouldn't mean much if we just went out there and kind of did the same thing.

“So I prided myself on having a strong start and jump-starting a great game for the whole team.”

Notre Dame eventually led by 20 in the first half – 42-22 and 45-25; it still held a 47-31 edge at the break, when Brey sensed a continued purpose in his team.

“I would say just how they spoke to each other in huddles,” Brey said. “[They said] 'We're going to finish this one. We're finishing this one.' There was a great determination after not being able to do that a couple places, to learn and do it.

“When young people learn to do it, it's really gratifying to watch.”

FSU, however, mounted an inevitable charge throughout much of the second half. It got 17 points from freshman Scottie Barnes and 15 from RaiQuan Gray – before Gray fouled out.

After they had trailed by double-digits for more than 17 consecutive minutes that spanned the first and second halves, the Seminoles went on an 11-4 run that whittled their margin from 70-59 to 74-70.

Then Hubb hit an acrobatic, twisting layup and Dane Goodwin and Trey Wertz combined to hit 3 of 4 free throws to edge it back to a nine-point lead.

“I would say we're a close group, we're willing to talk about those kinds of things and be open to each other about that,” Goodwin said of the team's approach after Wednesday's loss. “For us, growing, especially going into this ACC Tournament.

“We've got to be all-hands-on-deck and for anything that comes our way.”

Notre Dame out-rebounded the longer, more athletic Seminoles, 38-35, and also capitalized on a season-high 34 trips to the charity stripe with 28 makes.

“I wish I had us in more five-out cutting on Wednesday; I really kick myself,” Brey said. “Because really, the defense that N.C. State and Florida State play is very similar, athletically switching stuff.

“As we digested Wednesday and moved on. The floor was open for drives. … We're a great free-throw shooting team. We got there a lot and we cashed in.”

Now, the Fighting Irish carry modest momentum and perhaps a newly discovered identity into next week's ACC Tournament.

In addition to Hubb's 22 and Djogo's 11, Notre Dame a combined 26 points off the bench from Cormac Ryan and Goodwin as well as 11 from Nate Laszewski. Durham added nine points, nine boards, two steals and a block.

“I think it's a Prentiss Hubb kind of voice in a huddle down the stretch,” Brey said. “Nik Djogo as a vocal guy. Cormac Ryan. I thought there was a great voice from him before the game in the locker room and throughout the game.”

 
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