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Notre Dame Basketball

NC State Led For Less Than A Second, Still Beats Notre Dame 54-52

January 3, 2024

Winning is hard. 

Notre Dame’s (6-8, 1-2) young team is finding that lesson out the tough way. 

On Wednesday, the Fighting Irish led for 38 minutes and 49 seconds, but failed to stop NC State big man DJ Burns Jr. in the final moments.  

The 6-foot-9, 275-pounder, who finished with 13 points and four rebounds, used an up-and-under move to score with six-tenths of a second left in the game to give NC State (10-3, 2-0) its only lead of the night and a gritty 54-52 win. 

“We knew he was going to get it,” stated Kebba Njie, who was guarding Burns. “I was undisciplined on that last possession and he got an easy layup. It’s on me.” 

It was a game Notre Dame should have won and probably by double digits. Micah Shrewsberry’s club started hot and even led 46-36 with less than eight minutes to play in the game. 

Yet, Notre Dame didn’t finish. In fact, the Irish failed to score in the final 2:10, which led to an 8-0 run by NC State to finish the game. Shrewsberry’s lacked focus and made minor errors in the final minutes.

JR Konieczny traveled with 26 seconds to play. Julian Roper II missed the front end of a one-and-one. Kebba Njie fell for a shot fake and gave up the game-winning score. 

“Our lack of discipline is what got us,” stated Shrewsberry. “Doing things out of character at the end of the game that we shouldn’t have been doing. We turned the ball over and now we aren’t guarding them in the right way. Those plays kill you.

“It’s a three in the middle of the half when you have a chance to go on a bigger run. It’s the layup at the end when I can’t stay on my feet and make him score over the top instead of jumping and giving him a wide-open layup.” 

If you’re a fan of offensive basketball, Purcell Pavilion wasn’t the place to be and, quite frankly, hasn’t been all year. 

NC State shot 28.8 percent from the field, which included going 16.7 percent from three. Notre Dame shot 40 percent from the field, but lost the turnover battle 13-4. 

Yet, the game wasn’t lost on those three critical errors. 

Notre Dame lost its eight-point halftime lead because they couldn’t control the glass in the final 20 minutes. The Wolfpack out-rebounded Notre Dame 27-19 in the second half alone, including 13 offensive rebounds, which led to eight second-chance points. 

For the game, NC State shot 66 times while Notre Dame got off just 47 shots, and in a game where you’re trying to grind out a low-scoring affair, it’s simply not the recipe for success. 

“We didn’t rebound at all in the second half. It wasn’t the turnovers at the end. It wasn’t the missed free throws at the end. It was the 13 offensive rebounds in the second half to a team that historically isn’t really good at getting second-chance points. 

“When we came out in the second half and we allowed them to play volleyball on the backboard instead of going and getting the ball with two hands,” explained Shrewsberry. “It’s simply boxing a guy out. We didn’t even turn and look. We let Casey Morsell run in from the opposite corner and get offensive rebounds. Nobody makes any adjustments.” 

And yes, Shrewsberry and his staff made a point to box out and crash the glass. The lack of discipline that cost Notre Dame early season games showed itself days after getting the biggest win of the year. 

“You can only say something so many times,” said Shrewsberry. “At some point in time, discipline has to kick in. As disciplined as we were the other day, we were not today - not enough. We were disciplined at times, but not when we needed to be.

“In close games in conference play, you have to be really disciplined to win. When you’re not, this is what happens.” 

Notre Dame’s offense also went stagnant as the Irish shot just 30.4 percent from the field in the second half. As usual, freshman point guard Markus Burton was Notre Dame’s only light on the offensive end as he scored 18 points and was the only player in double figures for the Irish. 

The 13 turnovers weren’t a killer as NC State used an aggressive full court press from start to finish and Shrewsberry was pleased with how his team handled it despite six turnovers from Burton. 

“We turned the ball over 13 times the whole game,” stated Shrewsberry. “They pressed for 40 minutes. We usually turn the ball over 17-18 times a game. JR made a mistake at the end, but it wasn’t like we were tossing the ball all over the gym. They’re one of the best teams in the country in turning the ball over.

“What we did the entire game is what we did at the very end. It just happened to go to JR’s hands. Maybe one of our other point guards should have went and got it. He dribbled up against man press. He just should have jump-stopped at the end. Now, he’s getting fouled and he’s shooting free throws.” 

There were always going to be growing pains with this team as Shrewsberry is building a program from the ground up. He didn’t inherit a roster of talented student-athletes nor did he find diamonds in the rough. 

What he found was gritty players who love basketball, but at the same time, Notre Dame has to grow up and simply play with discipline - and trust the coaching staff. 

“Things that you walk through - out of bounds plays and they throw the ball to the big fella on the block and we’re supposed to be going to double team,” Shrewsberry said. “We didn’t do it one time. The one time we do it, the guy on the bottom isn’t ready to rotate and they get a dunk.

“You just have to do your job. That’s it. Not for 20 minutes. Not for 25. Do it for 40 minutes because you never know which thing that happens is the one that breaks your back. It could happen with 17 minutes on the clock in the second half and not the one at the end.”

NC State didn’t necessarily come out on a run to start the second half, but it was the effort level that was higher. Notre Dame actually extended its lead to 10 with just under 12 minutes to play, yet Shrewsberry knew his team was in for a fight because NC State was simply playing harder. 

“We’re never in that situation if we come out the right way in the second half, said Shrewsberry. “I’m happy when I’m leaving here because we started the right way, but we didn’t and they got on the offensive boards and we’re battling the whole time. Now they’re scoring it and getting free throws because we keep fouling. 

“We allowed them to do that. Guess what? We’re taking the ball out of bounds and now we have to handle the press. Now, we’re up against the shot clock the whole time. When simply, if I have boxed my man out and got that rebound, we can push in transition, or we’re playing a little more clean.

“Just do your job.” 

Notre Dame will host No. 14 Duke (10-3, 1-1)  on Saturday evening. Tip is set for 6:00 PM ET on ACC Network. 

“We have to stick together and come together as a team,” stated Tae Davis. “We have to come back with our best punch and try to respond.” 

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