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Notre Dame Basketball

Tide washes out: Notre Dame controls Alabama, rolls in NCAA Tourney

March 18, 2022

A cross-country, red-eye flight to San Diego, after a double-overtime First Four debut against Rutgers, and decided underdog status.

No worries for Notre Dame.

The 11th-seeded Fighting Irish got a career-high 29 points from Cormac Ryan and methodically pulled away to dispatch No. 6 seed Alabama, 78-64, Friday afternoon in San Diego in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64.

Notre Dame (24-10) advances to face third-seeded Texas Tech Sunday in the Round of 32.

“I mean, it’s everything I dreamed of,” Ryan said. “Look at our fan section (inside Viejas Arena). We really came to compete and knew how capable this team was from the beginning.

“It feels good to be able to showcase that on this biggest stage.”

Blake Wesley bounced back from back-to-back subpar efforts with an 18-point performance in 27 minutes; the freshman from South Bend helped seal the game down the stretch with a steal for a runout-dunk and an acrobatic layup.

Paul Atkinson Jr. added 13 points and a team-best eight boards while Nate Laszewski contributed 10 points and six boards off the bench.

Alabama lost star guard Jahvon Quinerly in the game’s opening moments to a left-knee injury and then watched the Irish lead for more than 30 minutes.

Notre Dame finished 10-for-16 from 3-point range – seven of them belonged to Ryan – and outrebounded the larger Tide (19-14), 32-28.

“I think we were just hungry,” Ryan said, “and we were hungry down in Dayton (in the First Four against Rutgers), and I don’t think we ever lost it.

“We kind of rolled into California with that hunger. I think quick trip helped us. We were still hungry. Like we just got off the court, put us back on the court. We’re ready.”

Added Mike Brey, who won his 15th NCAA Tournament game atop the Irish helm, “I’m thrilled about our resiliency and belief in wanting to advance in this tournament.”

Quinerly or no, Notre Dame served early notice it was ready to play and never blanched amidst any of Alabama’s mini-scoring bursts. The Irish never trailed by more than four, and they utilized a first-half closing run as precursor to a dominant second half.

A 9-3 run into the break – five points from Nate Laszewski, a Ryan 3 and a bucket from Paul Atkinson Jr. – vaulted Notre Dame atop the Tide, 41-36.

The Tide pulled within two, 44-42, moments in the second half before Notre Dame began to systematically pull away from its higher-seeded foes who nonetheless finished the season on a four-game losing streak after getting bounced by the Irish.

A 19-8 run lifted Notre Dame to a 63-50 edge on the strength of an Atkinson layup, and Alabama managed to whittle the deficit inside 10 points just three times across the game’s final eight minutes; the Tide never trailed by fewer than eight points for the game’s final 14:16.

The Irish ballooned their lead to as many as 16 points. They shot 54% from the floor (29-for-54), converted 10 of 11 three throws and rather easily overcame an 18-turnover game just two days after they committed just five give-aways in their 90-minute epic against Rutgers.

“I think we play the right way, we share it and we play with a free mind,” Brey said. “And it’s a group that has complete ownership of itself. I use Cormac (as a leadership example), but Dane (Goodwin), Prentiss (Hubb), Paul now.

“When you can get a group to take ownership of itself, you’re 80% of the way there. These guys really had ownership by late January, and they talk about what they want to do and they sell my (message) when I’m not around. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s the special stuff.”

Hubb continued his sublime offensive operation; he had five points, five boards, three assists and a scant one turnover in 35 minutes on the floor. Hubb has scored 14 points, dished out 10 assists, grabbed 10 boards and committed just one turnover in 79 minutes on the floor this week in the two NCAA Tournament games.

“(Hubb) just knew (to think) ‘I’ve got some weapons around me, and I’ll worry about my shot and my scoring later,’” Brey said of Hubb’s approach after he was reinserted into the starting lineup in December. “It’s just been fabulous. That’s an amazing stat. I have a sign in the locker room, ‘Don’t skip class, don’t throw the ball away and you’ll be fine with me.’ …  

“He has lived that, taking care of that ball.”

Now, the Irish battle the Red Raiders (26-9) Sunday to see if they can live long enough for the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since the 2015-16 season.

“They are just, and I watched them during the year, I wanted to go out and just peek in (Friday in the game prior to Notre Dame), see them on eye-level,” Brey said of Texas Tech. “Woo-hoo do they have some bodies. It’s no different than what we dealt with in the Big East, Florida State, Rutgers, these guys.”

But Brey isn’t about to discount his squad – the mental makeup of which he has praised throughout this 20-win, five-loss run that dates to Dec. 20, 2021.

“As a coach, it’s my job to don’t screw it up, don’t overcoach them,” Brey said. “Cormac Ryan grabbed me in Brooklyn (after the Irish lost to Virginia Tech in their first game, the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament last week), and said, ‘Coach, be all over our ass tomorrow in practice.’

“Message taken.”

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