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Notre Dame Basketball

Ugly as Sin: Notre Dame falls in Las Vegas

November 23, 2021

The scene wasn't Hawaii, and the team certainly wasn't that Notre Dame squad of four years ago.

Instead, the Fighting Irish looked far too similar to their ghosts of recent seasons past rather than the group who buoyed hopes for the 2017-18 season with a Maui Invitational title.

Notre Dame failed to score a bucket in the game's final three minutes, 29 seconds, and St. Mary's got a late, tie-breaking 3-pointer from Dan Fotu – part of his career-high 22 points – to help secure a 62-59 win. A pair of Tommy Kuhse free throws – the last of his 14 points – sealed the Gaels’ win.

Cormac Ryan's desperation 3-point attempt from the deep right wing missed everything as the buzzer sounded inside the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, host site of this year's Maui Invitational due to COVID-19 protocols on the islands.

“I feel for our guys,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We gave ourselves every opportunity. They're really, really good and they're tough and they’re old.

“We could steal a page from their book as far as their poise, how they play. I love what our group did. We had a chance. I thought our defense overall was pretty good, to keep them in the 60s. They're further ahead than us, they've been together longer and they did it for 40 minutes.”

Ryan led the Irish (2-1) with 16 points, including 3-for-5 from distance, but his missed free throw with seven seconds left on the clock denied a tie and allowed the Gaels (5-0) to put the game away their own charity stripe.

Paul Atkinson Jr. added 16 points and five boards for the Irish, who also got 10 from Dane Goodwin – though Goodwin was held scoreless in the second half.

“I think like Coach Brey said, we had a good day defensively,” Atkinson said. “We learned a lot from that. Things we need to take to get better. Offensively, I think we had some lacks today, a lot of iso-ball and stuff like that that we're going to work on and get better as a unit.

St. Mary's outrebounded Notre Dame, 32-27, and it also got 30 bench points compared to just a dozen for the Irish – who again used only seven players.

Notre Dame seized two separate leads with just less than four minutes in the game. Blake Wesley, the Irish's highly regarded freshman wing, pulled a pair of defenders with him on an attacking drive and kicked to Ryan in the corner for a 3 that lifted the Irish to a 54-53 lead.

After the Gaels got a single free throw, Atkinson answered with a bucket inside – but it was the final one Notre Dame made in the contest.

The Irish have led by six, trailed by a point and now been tied at the half in their first three games – all against mid-major opponents.

Notre Dame began this game down 7-0, and it later trailed 31-24.

Credit, however, the Irish's timely, if inconsistent, shooting. They sizzled during a seven-for-10 stretch in which they took their first lead on a Ryan bucket and edged ahead, 16-13, on Goodwin's tough bucket inside.

“I think my teammates did a good job finding me,” Ryan said. “We're a confident group. We have guys that can really shoot the ball, we have guys that can play and we're confident in each other.”

The sequence came just moments after Blake Wesley scored five quick points immediately after checking into the game following the first media timeout.

The Gaels never panicked. They worked ND inside, with a 14-6 edge on points in the paint during the first half, and enjoyed a 31-24 edge on a pair of Fotu free throws with 3:56 left before the break.

Notre Dame's defense stiffened, got Atkinson involved inside on offense and defense, and forced a 31-all tie on Ryan's fadeaway jumper just seconds before the break.

Seniors Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski again were ineffective for Notre Dame; the duo combined for just eight total points on two-for-11 shooting.

In fact, late in the game it was the freshman Wesley and not Hubb on the floor during a key stretch before Hubb returned for the game's final minute.

“He's going to be a key for us, no question,” Brey said of Hubb. “But it was interesting tonight as I'm still learning about, we have more guards you know, especially with Blake Wesley. And I thought on this stage, he was very good. …

“I'm trying to find where to Hubb, get him off the ball some and get his feet set, ready to shoot. But I think he at least knows he doesn't have to hunt it and doesn't have to force plays. … We're going to need him to score and make some shots.”

Now, the Irish must try to salvage a win in Vegas Tuesday night against tournament “host” Chaminade in the event's loser's bracket. Tip is 10:30 p.m. (ET).

“We've got to try to win a game out here as we're figuring out our team,” Brey said.

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