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Notre Dame Basketball

Notre Dame season ends; NCAA drought carries on

March 10, 2021

One streak is dead. A far more troubling one carries on for Notre Dame basketball.

Outclassed and outplayed from the outset Wednesday night in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the Fighting Irish had their season ended by No. 6-seed North Carolina in emphatic fashion, 101-59.

It now is four years since its last NCAA Tournament bid for Notre Dame – the program's longest drought since 1991-2000. Notre Dame (11-15) also saw its modest five-game ACC Tournament winning streak inside Greensboro Coliseum snapped.

That's 61 losses in the past four years for the Irish, as well as six-straight seasons of 10 or more losses. Where does Notre Dame basketball go from this point? How or can it recapture being postseason-relevant?

“I think that's a great question,” Mike Brey said. “I would say this group coming back, going into my 22nd year, is in the same boat as my seventh year. We had missed the tournament three years; this will be three or four, however you want to count it. So you gotta go back (to the tournament). You have to. Absolutely have to.

“We did in Year 7; we had to go back in Year 7 and we did. We had some momentum. I think I'm right on that mat again; been there, done that.”

The Tar Heels (17-9) quickly left the Irish splayed on a mat of hardwood. They had a flurry of scoring bursts in this contest that never was really in doubt. UNC utilized a 9-0 first-half run to seize command and uncorked a 42-4 run that at its pinnacle left the Irish down 101-51 and cemented one of the all-time worst losses in Notre Dame history.

“He just talked about how we've got to play harder,” junior captain Prentiss Hubb, who matched Nate Laszewski with 13 points for team-best, said of Brey's post-game message. “We've got to have that edge about ourselves. We've got to have this feeling and always remember soon as we get back to South Bend and start workouts again, just remember, we lost by (bleeping), I'm sorry, 40, 50 points.”

UNC did all this without star post Garrison Brooks in its lineup. Brooks, who has averaged almost 11 points and seven rebounds per game, missed with a sprained ankle.

It mattered not in the least. The Heels flexed on the Irish in all facets but especially on the boards and in the paint. They outscored Notre Dame, 56-20, inside and outrebounded them, 54-31.

The Irish also had a dozen of their shots swatted away by Carolina, which emptied its bench and played 14 players at least two minutes. Five Tar Heels scored in double figures, paced by Armando Bacot's 20-point, 13-rebound effort.

Fifth-year senior Nik Djogo hit a free throw for the Irish at the 15-minute, 27-second mark that whittled the deficit to 59-47; it was 74-47 before Notre Dame mustered another bucket and 101-51 before it again scored from the floor after that make.

Notre Dame shot just 19-for-61 from the field. The Heels took 18 more shots and made 20 more buckets; they also corralled 25 offensive boards.

“I don't know, that's a great question,” Brey said when asked how this Notre Dame team could trail another ACC foe by 50 points. “I don't know. We just kind of got overwhelmed.

“I don't know if we had much left after (Tuesday) night, quite frankly, because we kind of pulled that one out of our backside just to stay alive. And I was very concerned if we had enough juice to hang around, and we really didn't.”

In his final game for the Irish, Juwan Durham had 10 points and six rebounds in just 18 minutes. Djogo closed with a single point and three rebounds. Brey pulled his starters with several minutes to play in the blowout-loss and let reserves, including freshmen Tony Sanders Jr. and Matt Zona, finish the contest.

Under contract through 2024-25, Brey appeared to emphasize he intended to also return to roam the sidelines for a 22nd season inside Purcell Pavilion. Brey said he planned to invite players to his home Sunday to watch the NCAA Tournament bracket unveiled and said he left a message about that event in the locker room with his team.

“There's a nucleus of guys coming back,” Brey said. “Hard to evaluate them tonight. Some of them have gotten better this year. We get a big guy who's a proven low-post player, Paul Atkinson. You know, we were picked 12th. I don't think people really thought much of us this season. We weren't on 'Big Monday' at all; if you're not on 'Big Monday,' you're not really thought of as one of the top ones at all. And rightfully so.

“We'll probably picked a little higher next year, and then it's a dog-fight to go back (to the NCAA Tournament). I told them a year from this 'Selection Sunday' our goal should be to see our name flash up. That's the crossroads we're at, absolutely.”

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