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Notre Dame Basketball

Home cooking: N.C. native Wertz keeps Irish alive

March 9, 2021
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It had every single element of another disappointment – like a burned kielbasa -- and this seemingly impending loss was poised to end both the season and careers.

Trey Wertz had an entirely different mind-set.

Playing in his home state of North Carolina and exhorting teammate Cormac Ryan for a chance to launch the game-winning shot, the Notre Dame guard Wertz buried Wake Forest at the buzzer Tuesday night in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

Wertz's deep triple from the right wing gave the Fighting Irish (11-14) only their third lead of the night but the one that mattered – 80-77, final.

“As soon as I let it go, I knew it was good,” said Wertz, who shared his last game-winning shot came a year ago as a member of the Santa Clara team. “I kind of ran straight to (Ryan) thanking him for the pass.”

Notre Dame led 2-0, knotted the score after it trailed for more than 35 minutes at 75-all on Prentiss Hubb's 3-pointer, took a brief lead at 77-75 and then won it on the wondrous Wertz.

The Irish, who closed the game on an 17-2 sprint, live to play another day; they'll face No. 6 seed North Carolina Wednesday night at approximately 9 (ACC Network).

“I told them at the 10-minute mark, how we finish this game is really gonna set the tone for you returning guys next year,” said ND coach Mike Brey. “You better not hang your head. I'm thrilled for them because they earned it on that defensive end.”

No individual altered more shots throughout the course of the game than Irish big man Juwan Durham; he blocked three shots in addition to his 16-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Yet it was the indomitable Ryan – who moments earlier lie writhing on the court in pain – who blocked the shot of Wake's Davien Williamson and set up the win with not a back-door pass but a bit of a wrap-around dish to Wertz.

“For sure just staying solid and trusting my instinct, my principles,” Ryan said. “I think I had a clean look. I wasn't even planning on going up to block it; it was just there. You know, it's kind of an instinct play. Got the stop.”

Throughout most of this game, a rematch of Notre Dame's 79-58 win Feb. 2 inside Purcell Pavilion, a stop seemed like the last thing the Irish would cling to as an opportunity for victory.

The Demon Deacons, losers of seven-straight entering the game and winless for nearly a month, led by as many as 16; they early outrebounded the Irish, 14-1, and they also shot 12-for-27 from 3 and 11-for-14 at the free-throw line.

Notre Dame's season-saving rally began inside the 13-minute mark, down 64-49. Dane Goodwin ignited a 7-0 Irish run when he sandwiched a triple and a mid-range jumper around a Hubb bucket.

Wake (6-16) led by 12, 75-63, on Williamson's bucket when the Irish mounted their final charge.

Hubb scored nine of his 14 in the spree, and that allowed Wertz a shot at hero status less than 100 miles from his hometown of Charlotte.

“I'm just happy we won,” Wertz said after he finished with 16 points in just 23 minutes. “I didn't want to go home. We didn't want to go home for our seniors.”

Goodwin and Ryan teamed for 23 points off the bench; Nik Djogo added nine for the Irish to help overcome just a two-point, four-foul output from Nate Laszewski.

Now, these Breyniac Irish get a chance to avenge an 66-65 loss to North Carolina way back on Jan. 2, when they had multiple opportunities to win the game but could not overcome the Tar Heels' 18-5 edge in second-chance points.

 
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