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Notre Dame Basketball

Crowdsourcing: Irish fall at packed Illinois

November 30, 2021

The thing about Notre Dame’s men’s basketball schedule is that it presents and has presented myriad opportunities.

The thing about the Fighting Irish, at least through the 2021-22 season’s first half-dozen games, is that there’s little reason thus far to believe the group is capable of taking advantage of said opportunities.

Oh, and it’s about to get even more challenging with college bluebloods Kentucky (Dec. 11) and Duke (Jan. 1) on the upcoming slate, among other foes.

Playing Monday at Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Notre Dame fell 82-72 in front of a crowd of 14,907 inside the State Farm Center.

“We had our moments; I thought we were a little better offensively at times,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “We’re certainly learning about our group, but we couldn’t really get enough stops to make it more than a two-possession game in the second half.” 

The Illini  (5-2), who had lost two of their previous four games entering the contest and also did not have starter Andre Curbelo, never trailed by more than four points – only in the game’s  fledgling moments, 10-6 – and did not trail for more than the final 35 minutes on the clock.

The Irish (3-3) trailed consecutively for the game’s final 28 minutes, 45 seconds and also trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half. They got as close as five, down 71-66 on the strength of Dane Goodwin’s top-of-the-key 3-pointer near the three-minute mark, but never seriously threatened their hosts.

Kofi Cockburn had 28 points for Illinois, and Alfonso Plummer added 21. Illinois hit 11 3-pointers, outrebounded the Irish and dominated the visitors in sharing the ball with 19 assists to Notre Dame’s 10, 

“You know you’re trying to figure out what to do to defend him,” Brey said of Cockburn, praising his front-line’s second-half defense. “He is just so hard to handle.”

The game also marked the largest crowd in almost two years to see an Irish basketball game. Brey said Notre Dame practiced Sunday with crowd music piped into the session and overall was pleased with his team’s response in that regard.

“I thought we were pretty darn good in that, because we haven’t played in that in over a year,” he said. “They’ve got a heck of an atmosphere and a great basketball team. I’m also a believer in the law of averages, and what have we beaten them, three in a row? WE opened the building here in what, 2015, and everybody was pissed off.

“It was neat to be in it, and God, we missed that in college basketball. We really missed it.”

Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Irish was freshman guard Blake Wesley. He spurred Notre Dame off the bench with a team-high 24 points on nine-for-12 shooting. Goodwin added 15 and Nate Laszewski 13.

“It’s a little bit of even more of a coming-out for (Wesley),” Brey said. “We just in the second half said run our team and make decisions and I thought he was fabulous. He’s very fortunate that he plays with some senior guards that allow and know, go make plays for us and me. I thought his decisions on when to score off the ball-screen and when to find his teammates was simply fabulous. He’s very special, and we just gotta keep grooming him and how to play around him and off of him.”

Up next for Notre Dame is another chance to get its first win against a Power 5 team – as well as an ACC foe. The Irish visit Boston College Friday at 6 p.m.

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