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Notre Dame Basketball

Effort & Heart Not Enough for Notre Dame In 67-59 Loss to Duke

January 6, 2024

Notre Dame (6-9, 1-3) basketball isn’t pretty right now, but Micah Shrewsberry and the Irish know it. 

The Fighting Irish are building a culture around defense and grit, which means they have to muck it up to have a shot against teams with a pulse.

On Saturday, Duke (11-3, 2-1) came to Purcell Pavilion and left with an ugly 67-59 win over the Irish. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field, while the Blue Devils topped the Irish from deep at just 31 percent. 

Duke head coach Jon Scheyer saw his team end the first half on a 14-3 run and then used another 5-0 run to start the second half to separate from Notre Dame - but he noticed one key detail from Shrewsberry’s squad. 

“It’s clear they’re building a culture,” stated Scheyer. “Good luck to whoever comes in here. It’s a tough place to play, not just because they have a great arena and fans but it’s because of the way they’re playing. Their defense is legit and that’s how you build a culture.” 

Notre Dame’s defense shined once again as the Irish essentially shut down last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year in Kyle Filipowski. The sophomore star entered the night averaging 17.5 ppg, but was limited to just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting and significant credit goes to Kebba Njie for his defensive effort. 

“I was going to guard him and I know he can shoot,” stated Njie. “He’s a hell of a player. We were going to double the post a little bit, but I wanted to be solid and make him shoot over me.” 

Shrewsberry was pleased with Njie effort on defense, especially after giving up the game-winning layup on Wednesday to NC State. 

“They kill you in the paint,” explained Shrewsberry. “That’s what we wanted to take away. We wanted to protect the paint. I thought we did a really good job of that. Part of that was doubling the post some.

“He did a great job. Effort. I think he grew from the other night. He was jumping on shot fakes at the end of the ball and he stayed down. Forced him to score over the top because it’s a tough two at the end of the day. I thought Tae (Davis) did a good job of fighting him when he was in there and (Julian) Roper was guarding him at the start of the second half.” 

The bad news for Notre Dame was Mark Mitchell stepped up with the attention focused on Filipowski.

Mitchell scored a game-high 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds, including four big offensive boards. The 6-foot-9 sophomore entered the night 1-for-22 from deep and went 2-for-2 on Saturday. 

“He made the two threes, but that’s on me,” Shrewsberry said. “You have to choose to take something away and when he makes threes, I’ll raise my hand because that’s on me. I told you guys to stay there. 

“The offensive rebounds, the dump offs in the double when we didn’t rotate the right way, the things we drilled and worked on, we have to be crisp in that to take those layups away - the transition. Those are the ones that really kill you.” 

Similar to many games this season, Notre Dame also started the second half slow. In fact, Shrewsberry made a quick change less than three minutes into the half when he subbed out four starters for Logan Imes, Braeden Shrewsberry, Roper and Zona following Duke extending the lead to 34-27. 

“I said the other night if we keep starting like this, I need to do something different. That’s on me. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me three times, that’s on me now. I should have changed something. It won’t happen again. We’re going to start the second half better because that put us behind. 

“That set the tone for them on how the second half was played. I thought that group came in and reset the tone of how hard we needed to play. I was proud of that group.” 

Markus Burton led Notre Dame (again) in scoring with 18 points, but it came on 7-of-21 shooting. The freshman point guard also chipped in four assists, but the only other player to record and assist was Davis, as the Irish finished the night with just five assists. 

Shrewsberry knows it’s an issue Notre Dame has to correct, but he also pointed out some of it is how teams are playing defense against a limited Irish offensive attack. 

“Nobody guards you the same exact way,” stated Shrewsberry. “Duke didn’t want to get into rotations. They’re usually a team that switches 1-4. They quit switching and then they stayed at home. Everyone is denied on the perimeter, so it’s hard to get assists. Sometimes it’s us, sometimes it’s them.

“We want to move it. Sometimes people guard us in certain ways that we just can’t. We did our best to move it to get slips and cuts, but that’s where our execution has to get better. We had to change some things from NC State because they guard in a similar manner and I thought we got good things off of those, it’s two days. It’s not two months. We have to constantly change. That’s where these guys aren’t used to that.” 

Notre Dame’s bench provided an 18-point boost led by Shrewsberry’s 12 points, including four threes, but the Irish struggled from the free throw line on Saturday.

The Irish entered the night shooting 73 percent from the line, yet finished just 8-of-16 against Duke, while the Blue Devils hit 17-of-21. 

Davis, who finished with nine points and five boards, got to the line eight times, but only hit three free throws and as a team, Notre Dame finished 5-for-10 in the final 20 minutes. 

“We have to make our free throws,” Shrewsberry said. “It’s not like we’re trying to miss free throws. It’s not like they’re not putting effort into being good at it. We shoot free throws throughout practice, and the other day, we finished with 50. If I never see these dudes working on free throws, then I would have something to say.

“We’re limited in who we are as a team offensively currently as constructed. We’ll grow. We’ll keep getting better.” 

It’d be easy to say Notre Dame taking Duke to the final minutes was a step in the right direction after losing to The Citadel by 20 points a few weeks ago, but Shrewsberry isn’t preaching that to his team. 

“Absolutely not,” Shrewsberry said when asked if this was a moral victory. “I want to win the game. I don’t care - being close doesn’t help you. You get a point in cornhole, but you aren’t getting any points in the ACC standings. It ain’t helping us, man. 

“I’m mad because we let two get away that we should have got. We start the second half better, we should have got this one and we should have got one on Wednesday. That’s what I’m disappointed in.” 

Notre Dame will hit the road to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech on Tuesday in what is always one of the most entertaining games of the year. Tip is set for 9:00 PM ET on ACC Network. 

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