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Notre Dame Basketball

Like Vegas, Notre Dame does not close in Maui finale

November 25, 2021

It's tale as old as sleeping off too much turkey with a Thanksgiving afternoon nap.

Notre Dame's offense vanished when it most mattered Wednesday night in the fifth-place game of the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas.

Similarly, in keeping with this now long-running narrative, the Irish also couldn't generate any kind of reserve play to hang with deeper, bigger, more athletic Texas A&M.

The result?

The Fighting Irish wilted inside Michelob Ultra Arena in a 73-67 loss in which they led by 14 points – in the second half – and by 10, 32-22, at halftime.

“We kind of pride ourselves in being good with the ball,” ND coach Mike Brey said, “but they took us a little bit out of everything, and I think you got to credit their ball pressure. We had four guards on the floor a bunch of times and we still couldn't get to spots. They were tougher, and especially the second 20 minutes, and they deserved it.”

Oh, it wasn't a full 20 minutes in which A&M proved tougher; the Aggies (6-1) outscored Notre Dame by a bludgeoning 46-26 margin in the game's final 16 minutes. Their 11-man rotation suffocated the leg-weary Irish.

Notre Dame got a Cormac Ryan layup at the nine-minute mark in the game – and didn't get its next field goal until a scant four seconds were left on the clock, its fate sealed.

TAMU had 11 different players log nine or more minutes on the court in the Vegas finale; the Irish were gridlocked with a seven-man rotation throughout their 1-2 performance in the event – the only win against NCAA Division II program Chaminade.

Foul problems, poor shooting and sloppy ball-handling didn't crack open the door for the Aggies; those issues kicked it as wide open as a pre-COVID Vegas buffet. Though only reserve senior guard Trey Wertz fouled out, Paul Atkinson Jr., Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski all finished the game with four fouls apiece.

“I think we're trying to get Elijah Taylor ready to go, another big body for Monday (at Illinois),” Brey said. “He was trending the right way, then he had the flu and he was out and we're trying to get him in shape. But really as far as the group that's going to either do it or not is, that group's going to have to do it, and the rest of the group there is really young. I'm thrilled with how Blake Wesley's coming along.

“This was the first Power Five game for him, and he had 22-year-old guards after him. And I think overall he was pretty darn good and it was our older guards who struggled.”

It was Wesley's 3-pointer as the shot-clock expired that lifted Notre Dame to that 41-27 lead with 16:40 left in the game. The Irish still led by 11, 44-33, when Atkinson converted an and-1 bucket plus the free throw.

But 12 of the Irish's 18 turnovers came in the second half, and Laszewski was whistled for his fourth foul with more than 13 minutes to play.

Dane Goodwin, again the Irish scoring leader with 18 points, tried to keep his team afloat with a 3 from Hubb's assist that had Notre Dame up 52-44.

From there, A&M fully took command. The Aggies quickly pulled within a single point, 54-53, and took a lead they never relinquished on a pair of Hassan Diarra free throws inside eight minutes. Also a sub, Diarra had 17 points in 27 minutes.

Hubb and Atkinson closed with 11 apiece; Wesley notched the third double-digit outing of his five-game college start with 10.

The Aggies got a combined 29 points off the bench from the tandem of Wade Taylor IV and Quenton Jackson – in the second half. They finished with 32 points in reserve, part of the Aggies 60-13 edge in bench scoring.

It also didn't matter that A&M hit a paltry 14 of 29 free throws while Notre Dame hit 23-for-30 from the charity stripe.

Though the Irish held a 36-30 rebounding edge in the game, they were outrebounded in the second half, 15-11. The Aggies also doubled-up the Irish in the paint with a 40-20 scoring edge.

Nothing gets easier for Notre Dame. The Irish have road games upcoming at Illinois Nov. 29 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and then open league play at Boston College Dec. 3.

Then, the Irish host Kentucky Dec. 11 inside Purcell Pavilion.

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