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Notre Dame Basketball

Work to do: Notre Dame blows 12-point lead, falls out of 1st in ACC

February 19, 2022

Mike Brey lamented that the law of averages finally caught up to his Notre Dame basketball team Saturday afternoon inside Wake Forest’s LJVM Coliseum.

That, and the host Demon Deacons’ dominance on the offensive glass, the Fighting Irish’s uncharacteristic turnover woes and a late-game cool-down from 3-point ranged doomed Notre Dame in a 79-75 loss to Wake (21-7, 11-6 Atlantic Coast Conference).

The Demon Deacons bludgeoned the Irish (19-8, 12-4 ACC) on the glass, 43-27 overall and 16-2 in offensive rebounds, and withstood Notre Dame’s 14 made 3-pointers – the first time this season Brey’s squad made 10 or more 3s and lost the game.

Wake, which trailed by as many as 12 points to the Irish, took the lead for keeps on Alondes Williams’ drive to the bucket for a 67-66 edge at the four-minute, 20-second mark and never again trailed.

“God, what a waste of bullets that you make 14 on a night and you can’t get out of there (with a win),” Brey said. “We were going to have to score and make shots to beat them.

“Can you absorb enough twos and not give up, they made six 3s, and the one time we double the post, they make a 3. The basketball gods will come to me tonight in my sleep and say, ‘I told you not to double the posts.’”

Notre Dame was outscored, 38-16, in the paint and also was harassed into 15 turnovers on a day it could have joined both the Demon Deacons and Duke as 20-game winners in the ACC.

As he paced all Demon Deacons with 23, Williams dissected the Irish defense on a variety of dashes to the bucket and his own work on the boards, where his 10 rebounds gave him a double-double along with teammate Khadim Sy, who had 15 points and 10 boards.

”We played small a bunch, which we've done and it helped us,” Brey said. “Think about the first half. We won the first half. We played small. We had 43 points, but they had nine offensive rebounds. We're going to give up something, but can we score more?

"We really couldn't do that in the second half, and we felt we tried to play bigger at times, the two of them (Paul Atkinson Jr. and Nate Laszewski) at the same time. We did do a little better job on the backboard.”

Indeed, after it was outrebounded 26-13 in the first half, Notre Dame faced just a three-rebound deficit in the second, 17-14, but it also cooled off considerably from behind the arc. After hitting nine triples in the first half, the Irish mustered just five in the second frame – and languished through a stretch of five-straight misses from long-range.

Laszewski delivered 11 points off the bench, and gave Notre Dame its last lead, 66-65, with the third of his three 3s. Prentiss Hubb added 10 points, six assists and four rebounds.

Atkinson and Cormac Ryan combined for 23 points, but Atkinson picked up two fouls inside the game's first three minutes, a third foul just before halftime and played just 21 minutes. 

Blake Wesley paced all scorers with 24 points; he again matched his career-best with six 3-pointers and closed the first half with 18 points as the Irish led, 41-35.

“First of all, he's an athletic marvel,” Brey said. “He's an absolute freak of nature, and I mean that in a complimentary way genetically. He's a beautiful athlete put together.

"He has a toughness about him, and a will. He plays a little older. I'm just so pleased with how he's improved, especially with shot selection, playmaking and he was involved in everything today.”

Stymied by the Demon Deacons and scarcely involved, however, was Irish stalwart Dane Goodwin, who closed with just three points on a meager four shot attempts and added seven rebounds.

"Dane's the first guy on the scouting report,” Brey said. “They take him away a little bit, and some other guys did some stuff."

Despite the loss, Notre Dame remains in position to challenge for the ACC regular-season title and likewise to secure a top-four seeding in the league’s tournament next month at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The Irish have three of their final four regular-season games at home, starting Wednesday with longtime rival Syracuse (7 p.m., ESPNEWS).

"I have full confidence in this group,” Brey said. “They're in the midst of chasing some things they've never done before.

“They'll rally and be ready for practice (Monday)."

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