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Notre Dame Basketball

The Hometown Kid Shines As Notre Dame Knocks Off No. 10 Kentucky

December 11, 2021
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Purcell Pavilion had energy for the first time in over a year. 

There was a buzz in the air as Notre Dame (4-4) hosted No. 10 Kentucky (7-2) on Saturday afternoon and South Bend native Blake Wesley delivered when the Irish needed him the most as the home team upset the Wildcats 66-62. 

The 6-foot-5 freshman had scored buckets in South Bend before, in fact, Wesley had scored a lot as he finished his prep career with 1,496 points at Riley High School, but none were bigger than his pull-up jumper with 12 seconds left to put the Irish ahead 64-62. 

"It means the world to me to do that in front of everybody,” Wesley stated. “The atmosphere was enjoyable to play in front of them." 

Wesley finished the night with 14 points and four boards, but the final play wasn’t even meant for him. Mike Brey had told Wesley if Paul Atkinson Jr. wasn’t there to go score. Wesley did just that.

“I've been working on that and I worked on that yesterday and the day before on pull-up jumpers,” said Wesley. “It was just there and shot over him and hit it." 

Brey wasn’t surprised to see Wesley rise up in the biggest moment of the game as it’s something he’s done his whole career. That said, Brey also knows Wesley has a chance to be a dynamic player as this is just his eighth game in the blue and gold. 

"He's really special,” explained Brey. “You start him on a road league game. I don't know if that's fair. Is that child abuse? He wasn't very good and he's playing against old guys tonight. He's a puppy compared to some of the guys he's playing against. 

"There's something about him. There's a special uniqueness about him. He's allowed us to really coach him and coach him hard. I've been hard on him. Coach Solomon has been hard on him. I think his body language and maturity was better tonight. 

It wasn’t easy for the Irish who found themselves down by two at halftime. Oscar Tshiebwe took it to the Irish defense on the block as the West Virginia transfer finished with 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting from the field. 

Brey was Ok with Tshiebwe scoring as the Wildcats struggled from deep. Kentucky started 0-for-13 from three-point range and finished the night just 2-for-19. 

"You have to earn your karma,” stated Brey. “I thought a couple of our defensive stands - that last one, Cormac Ryan, had a great chest on that guy. We were really smart offensively pretty much the whole game. We controlled the tempo.  

“You can come down and try to get it out of the big fella's hands, but if he kicks it out and they throw in a couple threes, we're not going to score enough to win. We were absorbing twos - painfully.”

Notre Dame won the game with its grit. The Irish hustled and made life tough for Kentucky on the offensive end, but it was the work on the boards that really stood out. 

Kentucky entered the game leading the country in rebounding differential at +19 per game and averaging 45.9 rebounds a night. 

Notre Dame didn’t have a player over six rebounds, but the Irish won the boards 33-28 and gave up just five offensive rebounds. 

The Irish also shot the ball much better on Saturday as they went 46 percent from the field and had four players finish in double figures. Dane Goodwin tied Wesley with a team-high 14 points, while Trey Wertz chipped in 12 and Atkinson finished with 10. 

Brey’s team will now get a week break before heading to Indianapolis for the Crossroad Classic against Indiana. 

"We certainly needed a night like this," said Brey. “Marcus Freeman lights the building up. LaPhonso Ellis. The local guy hits the J to put us up two. You can't draw it up any better. Thrilled for our guys and hopefully, we can grow off of it." 

 
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