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Notre Dame Basketball

Tigers tracked: Notre Dame rips Clemson, stays atop ACC standings

February 12, 2022

For a whopping 24 seconds, Clemson defended its home court Saturday afternoon inside Littlejohn Coliseum.

The rest of the time? Notre Dame flat-out dominated its host.

Paced by 18 first-half points from freshman phenom Blake Wesley, the Fighting Irish raced to a 38-28 halftime-lead en route to a near wire-to-wire, 76-61 win against the Tigers (12-12, 4-9 Atlantic Coast Conference).

With the victory, its 14th in its past 16 games, Notre Dame maintained pace with Duke atop the ACC standings – and as it improved to 18-7 overall, 11-3 in conference play Notre Dame secured its first winning ledger in ACC play since the 2016-17 campaign.

“This group of seniors has never played in the NCAA Tournament,” said Irish coach Mike Brey on the ACC Network. “They’ve been chasing that goal since last spring.”

Clemson found itself in the chase position almost instantaneously. As Wesley hit a jumper to start the scoring, part of the South Bend rookie’s perfect six-for-six start to the game, the Irish took their first lead 27 seconds after the opening tip.

When they answered Clemson’s lone lead, 3-2, with the first of Wesley’s five 3-pointers, Notre Dame found itself ahead for keeps – a stretch that spanned the game’s final 38 minutes, 17 seconds.

Wesley had 18 points in his first 10 minutes, as well as five rebounds. He closed with 21, and Dane Goodwin added 20 – multiple buckets that answered the Tigers’ few mine-charges.

After it closed within seven, 57-50, Clemson saw Notre Dame close the game on an 19-11 run across the game’s final eight minutes.

“I told our guys, as good as our defense was, every time, and this has happened on the road, four or five times, every time the crowd wanted to get into it, we had a mature, assassin-like offensive possession,” Brey said. “Smart. That’s where this group has really, really grown. Controlling tempo and get something smart offensively to slow a building down (from the fans getting too involved).

“I didn’t know we could be this cruel and tough, but I thought we had a chance to really grow. Our seniors were very hungry to do something special. And they’ve thoroughly embraced Paul (Atkinson) and Blake, our two new guys.”

Atkinson finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists in limited action for Notre Dame, which also saw Nate Laszewski return for limited action – 16 minutes, four boards – after he had missed most of the past two games with a bone bruise in his knee.

Cormac Ryan, who continued to start in lieu of Laszewski, closed with 13 points and six boards. Trey Wertz had eight points and three assists off the bench for Notre Dame.

“I turned to the assistants with about 20 seconds left and said, ‘Trey and Cormac have just been fabulous,’” Brey said. “You Know what’s funny, a guy getting hurt ups their minutes. I thought it would help those guys. One was gonna start, one was gonna play more.

“They’re playing right and we get Nate back and have seven playing right, we got a chance.”

The Irish went 13-for-24 from 3-point range, posted a 34-30 rebounding edge and handed out a team-wide 16 assists.

“Man, Notre Dame played well,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “When they make 13 3s, it’s hard to beat them. We had a hard time when they got going early. Wesley set a tone, put us on our heels a little bit.

“We just weren’t quite as good in the guard play in some situations. We need to make three more 3s in a game like this to give us a chance to take it the wire. We weren’t able to apply enough game pressure to Notre Dame. They’re playing really well. …  

“They’re older guys, they don’t get rattled. They’re playing with a ton of confidence. And I think you can see a little chip on their shoulder with some guys that haven’t been to the (NCAA) tournament in a couple years.”

Up next for Notre Dame is an opportunity to avenge arguably its worst loss of the season – a 73-57 loss at Boston College. The Eagles – who have won just three games in the 10 weeks since they hammered the Irish – sit near the bottom of the ACC standings at 4-9 following their loss Saturday to visiting Duke.

“You know I think our leadership of our senior class,” Brey told the ACC Network crew. “It’s a group who has worked their way to this point over four years and it is awesome.

“We’ve been keeping people under 65 (points). … We’ve got a neat group that believes.”

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