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Notre Dame Basketball

Orange, juiced: Notre Dame squeezes Syracuse to stay in ACC title hunt

February 24, 2022

After he had mixed berating of a female reporter and sparring with other media who regularly cover his program, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim proceeded to bemoan the shot.

And Notre Dame coach Mike Brey admittedly labeled the heave “the lowest, worst-percentage shot maybe in the history of Notre Dame basketball.”

Still, Prentiss Hubb would tell you he knew the weather balloon he hoisted toward the Purcell Pavilion rafters Wednesday night, shot-clock having dwindled to zero and a once-safe 12-point lead pared down to just two with three minutes, 34 seconds left on the ticker, would find its mark.

In fact, as Hubb, flanked by Brey, ambled out of his home gymnasium for the 62nd time in his ever-entertaining, always-fearless Irish career, he in fact did tell someone he knew the shot was true as it left his hands.

“Soon as it was in the air,” Hubb said, shuffling to his car. “I knew. It was a bomb, too.”

With his only long-distance make of the game, and one of just two field goals, Hubb ignited a game-closing 14-6 run that lifted Notre Dame to the 79-69 triumph.

“When we get it to two, Hubb takes the only 3 that he made, and it’s a bad shot, but it goes in,” complained Boeheim, whose team has now endured eight losses this season by 10 or more points. “That was the game. Other than that, we did pretty much what we wanted to try to do.”

Hubb’s blast from distance detonated any hope the Orange (15-13, 9-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) had retained that they might fully erase all of the home team’s edge and further stymie the quest of the Irish (20-8, 13-4 ACC) to stay within striking distance of league-leading Duke for the conference’s regular-season title.

Context came from Brey, whose squad led 42-38 at the break.

“We've all talked and laughed about Hubb wanting to take big shots,” Brey said. “The lowest, worst-percentage shot maybe in the history of Notre Dame basketball, but it's in the air and I'm kind of like, ‘You know, this is probably going in because this guy has such good karma around him and believes.’

“That's who he is.”

Who these Irish are continue to be a band of unyielding veterans with the sublime rookie Blake Wesley growing in each affair; a group not remotely as long or rangy as the Orange but nonetheless capable of a 41-28 edge on the glass. Paul Atkinson Jr. had 17 of those boards – eight of them caroms from the offensive glass – that he paired with a team-best 20 points.

Five old men and the newbie converted 18-for-21 at the free-throw line, 11 makes and a solitary miss in the game’s final half; they were 9-for-10 in the final 92 seconds.

“I think at that point I’m just kind of realizing that they’re going to need to foul us if they want to try to win this game; it’s just a winning mode,” said Atkinson Jr., the Yale transfer who had a double-double by halftime and has sank 19 of 23 charity tosses in his team’s last two wins. “We’ve got to make free throws, keep our lead and that’s what we did.

“We shoot free throws throughout practice a lot, and we finish all practices with free throws. That’s just one of the big things we want to instill in our team, we finish strong and we have a bunch of seniors who make free throws and know how to finish games. And Blake, obviously, a great finisher, too.”

Added Brey, “We've always been a good free-throw shooting team, and we've always been pretty darn good at the end of games. That's been an unbelievable weapon for us. I'm shocked when we miss any free throw - any of our guys. I'm like pissed when we miss a free throw. I just think everyone who plays can make free throws."

Still, it took Notre Dame’s 18-11 scoring edge at the stripe to help offset the combined 47 points Syracuse got from the brothers Boeheim – Jimmy (27) and Buddy (20).

But the coach’s sons also combined to attempt 35 of the Orange’s team-wide 57 field-goal tries. They connected on 18; the remainder of the Syracuse lineup had just eight makes.

"Paul Atkinson Jr. was fabulous,” Brey gushed. “He was really good. He was able to get inside that zone and make plays. When you have 19 assists and only seven turnovers playing against - for Blake Wesley against this zone for the first time - very impressive. Very impressive as far as shot/pass faking, moving. Cormac Ryan, we've got him emerging comfortably offensively.

"For Nate Laszewski to give us 17 (points) and 27 minutes when all he did before this game since the Wake Forest game was go to shootaround for five minutes today. He wasn't even in every possession with the white shirts. Give him a lot of credit.”

Laszewski had not practiced this week and said it wasn’t until Wednesday morning’s shoot-around that he felt he could contribute against Syracuse. Wesley added 13 points, two steals, one assist and just one turnover in his first time to face the Orange’s vaunted zone.

Cormac Ryan helped spur the win with 16 points, two assists, five boards and nary a turnover.

Notre Dame collectively dished out 19 assists on 25 buckets and committed just seven turnovers.

"It's really mental; you believe,” Brey said of his team’s repeatedly penchant to close-out games this season. “This is a battle-tested group. The seniors took their punches as freshmen and through their careers. They really believe.

"Paul and Blake added to that nucleus and they're great believers - how to win, want to win and (want to) finish.”

Not only chasing Duke for the ACC’s 20-game crown but also still contending for a double-bye in March’s ACC Tournament, the Irish have three more games – two of them at home, starting with Saturday’s 5 p.m. tilt against Georgia Tech.

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