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Notre Dame Basketball

Notre Dame Wilts to South Carolina 65-53 in ACC/SEC Challenge

November 28, 2023

It’s a new roster and a new coaching staff, but many of the issues that plagued Notre Dame (3-3) basketball in recent years were still present on Tuesday night as South Carolina (6-0) topped the Irish 65-53. 

Notre Dame went on major scoring droughts in the second half, which paved the way for the cold-shooting Gamecocks to put the game away. 

The first scoring drought came with Notre Dame leading 40-38, but in the next 3:13, South Carolina would take the lead at 44-41 with 11:01 to play. The Gamecocks would hold the Irish scoreless for over four minutes following a made free throw by JR Konieczny to end the previous drought and South Carolina took a commanding lead at 51-41 with less than seven minutes remaining. 

That said, Meechie Johnson was the difference as South Carolina’s veteran guards were a cause for concern entering the game. Johnson would score a game-high 29 points, including four threes while pulling down a team-high five rebounds on the night. 

South Carolina’s leading scorer, BJ Mack, ended his night with 17 points and four rebounds, but he shot just 6-for-15 from the field. 

“They got a couple threes on things we talked about, but when things get tough, we don’t trust our system right now,” stated head coach Notre Dame Micah Shrewsberry. “Offensively or defensively we don’t trust what we’re doing to be able to stay with it. We tried to veer to take away some of Mack’s threes. He ended up getting into the post some and a couple times we did a good job of fronting him and bringing help from the backside. A couple times we left our guys on an island and played one-on-one with him.

“We lost Meechie way too many times. We didn’t have the right matchups or not getting the right matchups at the right times or losing him on screens and those ended up being big shots and big plays.”

In the second half, Notre Dame would shoot 26.9 percent from the floor and 9.1 percent from three-point range while also recording just two assists. 

For the game, the new look Irish weren’t much better as Notre Dame shot 32.7 percent from field and 28.6 percent from deep, but they did start fast jumping out to a short lived 8-0 lead. 

Notre Dame sophomore Tae Davis was the lone bright spot for Notre Dame as he finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-9 forward also hit his first three of the season and went 4-for-7 from the foul line. 

Yet, Shrewsberry is still looking for an alpha to take over the game when the going gets tough and some physical fight from his team. There was hope it could be forward Kebba Njie, who was in his second game back from injury, but the sophomore struggled going 0-for-7 from the field with six boards. 

“Right now, we’re really easy to guard,” explained Shrewsberry. “I don’t want to tell the world this, but if you get physical with us, then we wilt. That’s an older, stronger and more physical team. They held us and grabbed us. You have to run through that. You have to get open at certain times and adjust to what you’re doing. 

“We also have to be able to settle at times. We don’t have any way to settle us. We have to throw the ball in the post. They threw it to BJ Mack and he can get you a bucket, foul and get to the free throw line. We got to find that. Maybe it’s Tae Davis posting for us. Kebba has to be better at getting us some things. he had some opportunities down there one-on-one in the post and didn’t come away with it.” 

Another positive was Notre Dame continued to play good defense for most of the game as South Carolina didn’t shoot much better at 38 percent from the field and just 28 percent from three-point range. 

Junior guard Julian Roper II scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds, while Konieczny scored 11 points for the Irish. Konieczny has now scored in double figures in three of the last four games. 

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Markus Burton struggled against South Carolina’s length at times and wasn’t as aggressive as normal hunting his shot. Entering the game, Burton had taken 40 percent of Notre Dame’s shots, but on Tuesday, the Mishawaka native was just 2-of-8 from the field. 

It was Notre Dame’s first true road game of the year and while Shrewsberry’s team didn’t handle the moment well, he remains confident it will only help this young group. 

“Not very well,” laughed Shrewsberry. “Credit to their crowd. I don’t know the history and I’ve never been, but I’ve watched a couple of their earlier games and there wasn’t anybody here. I was out there during warmups and saw those students pour in and I was like, ‘Oh shit. Here they come.’ 

“They had a good crowd. It got loud in here when they went on those runs. You need that. A young team, you have to have poise in those situations. You have to go to something that you trust. You gotta be able to get a bucket in some way. We’re just not quite ready for that. We will be. This is going to help us. We’re only going to keep getting better. I still believe in our guys. I’m never going to lose faith in our guys.” 

Life doesn’t get easier for Notre Dame as ACC play will start on Saturday as the Irish travel to No. 8 Miami (5-0). The Hurricanes entered Tuesday leading the nation in three-point percentage at 45.8 percent and averaged over 10 threes a game. 

And if that wasn’t enough, Notre Dame will also travel to No. 3 Marquette a week later. 

“Some of these were inherited,” said Shrewsberry. “It wasn’t like I was out there choosing to play Marquette. I didn’t ask to go on the road here. The ACC chose to send us on the road - two years in a row in this ACC/SEC Challenge. We’re back on the road next year. I didn’t ask for that, but you play what’s on your schedule. 

“We have a young team, but we’re not scared of anybody. We’re going to go compete. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes they get the best of you. Auburn got the best of us on that night, but we’re going to play them again. I’m not scared to go play anybody. It’s only helping these guys. It’s only making them better. We’re going to keep getting better as the season goes on.

“It’s November right now. We need to stay positive. We need to stay confident. You don’t want to see us in March or late February. We’re going to keep getting better. These trips are only going to help us. We go to Miami next, we play Marquette on the road, these are only going to help us and get us as tough as we need to be. As soon as we’re tough enough to handle these environments and we’re going to come out on top in these environments.” 

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