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Notre Dame Basketball

Irish escape: Led by veterans, Notre Dame outlasts pesky Howard

January 17, 2022

Ugly, but enough.

Notre Dame nearly blew a double-digit, second-half lead for the second time in three days.

Cormac Ryan’s late free throws, Prentiss Hubb’s driving layup off the glass and Nate Laszewski’s double-double were just enough to lift the Fighting Irish past Howard University, 71-68, Monday afternoon in the Martin Luther King Classic at Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium in Washington, D.C.

“One thing about Prentiss Hubb that you guys have seen, he can make a mistake, miss a shot or turn it over, but he does not get deflated and he does want to make a play to win the game,” Irish coach Mike Brey said via post-game Zoom. “That’s why no matter what’s happened leading up to the last 30 seconds, I’m apt to keep him out there.”

Notre Dame (11-6) had led by as many as 11 in the second half, up 67-56 after Blake Wesley’s acrobatic, reverse-layup along the baseline.

In his most complete performance of his senior season, Laszewski played the duration of the second half as Notre Dame opted for a smaller lineup around Laszewski in the middle. He finished 17 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and drilled each of his seven free-throw attempts.

Paul Atkinson Jr. was key early for the Irish, with six points and eight boards, but Atkinson became a bystander in the second half. 

“I think he’s in a great frame of mind,” Brey said of Laszewski. “The decision we made early in the second half was, we can only play one big guy. We even experimented with five guards at one point. We can only play one big guy, because they’re hard to deal with and they’re switching stuff.

“I think he played the whole second half, and we couldn’t take him out. He was solid defensively, made some big shots, he was a pressure release. Played like the senior that he is.”

Dane Goodwin maintained his concrete steady senior campaign; the Irish guard finished with 17 points on six-for-eight shooting that included Goodwin connecting on three of four 3-point attempts.

The Bison (6-8), who entered the game having lost by a combined 31 points to their only other Power Conference foes, Villanova and Georgetown, got an explosive performance from Steve Settle III.

Howard’s wing led all scorers with a career-best 23 points. He dazzled with a pair of improbable, off-balance buckets in each half that kept alive the Howard hopes, and he spurred the Bison’s furious, final-minutes comeback.

Elijah Hawkins’ game-tying 3-pointer as the game-clock expired fell just long and off the back, left side of the rim.

Kenny Blakeney, a former Duke player while Brey was a Blue Devils’ assistant and who later served on Brey’s University of Delaware staff, kept his Bison squad in the game with a patient offensive approach, aggressive, in-their-face defense at needed intervals and a general calm that prevented Howard from crumbling even as the Irish snagged a double-digit lead.

Notre Dame was less than 48 hours removed from a stinging, Atlantic Coast Conference loss at Virginia Tech Saturday night in which the Irish led numerous times by double-digits and for more than 32 minutes of game time, only to fall to the Hokies.

“Some of our turnovers against pressure were an adventure and disappointing, but I think you’ve got to give Howard credit,” Brey said. “They really came after us. This atmosphere was as good as any ACC road atmosphere as far as the visiting team. We made the free throws, we made the passes, Prentiss had at times tough stuff but he made a big drive there to win the game.

“I think there’s something into that [having left so much behind at Virginia Tech], I was very worried about today physically and mentally for us because we invested a lot in Blacksburg. We talked about, ‘Hey, we lost to Indiana on a Saturday, we played quick against Western Michigan and (now) Howard, let’s start a streak again.’ We did some tough stuff when we had to.”

Though the Irish had a horrendous late-game stretch that featured four turnovers in five possessions and missed a pair of front-end 1-and-1s, they got Ryan’s two free throws inside the final minute and then Hubb’s darting, soaring basket off the glass to secure the win.

Wesley finished with 13 points, giving him the Notre Dame rookie record for most games in double figures in a debut season. Wesley and the Irish still have 14 more regular-season games on their schedule, as well as the ACC Tournament.

“Well, No. 1 I think he has great veteran teammates to play with,” Brey said. “But he’s been, for the most part, he’s really let the game come to him. I think he fits well with our personnel. He is a special talent getting to the basket and good length. He can defend. Tough time with the ball a couple times, but he’s learning. He gives us an unbelievable lift, and I think he’s got really good older teammates that are like big brothers to him that have helped him.”

The Fighting Irish appeared poised to seize command midway through the first half. They forged to a 25-17 lead after Trey Wertz drilled a mid-range, pull-up jumper and Wesley punctuated his own mini-run of five consecutive points with a free throw and emphatic back-to-back run-out dunks.

But the Bison gradually pulled back in front of a spirited matinee crowd. They closed the opening half on a 13-7 run that included an offense rebound and buzzer-beating putback at the intermission to trail just 31-30.

The hosts then opened with first six points of the second half for a five-point edge before the Irish rallied for the win.

Now, Notre Dame stays on the road Saturday against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Louisville. Tip is 4 p.m. inside the YUM! Center, with the ESPN family of networks on the broadcast.

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