When it became clear that Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell were each going to be out for an extended period of time, most Irish fans prepared for the worst. We prepared to blow the 12-point halftime lead against North Carolina State, but instead the Irish pushed the final margin to 30. We again braced ourselves for a blowout loss in the Carrier Dome, but instead the Irish pulled out a win in dramatic fashion. So Irish fans could be forgiven for holding a bit of hope headed into Wednesday night, despite our struggles at McCamish Pavilion over the last 5 years.
Unfortunately, the Irish followed Saturday’s first half script but couldn’t make the 2nd half heroics stick and the Irish fell to the Yellow Jackets 60-53. The story of the night could be copy-pasted from virtually every other game recap this year: Notre Dame dug themselves an early hole with a serious lack of offense and had to scramble for the entirety of second half, leaving themselves no margin for error. Not enough shots fell late, and the Irish return home empty handed as a result.
The Irish shot a miserable 35% from the field and were 0-11 from 3 before finally connecting on a few late in the game. The saving grace of Saturday’s miserable shooting performance, offensive rebounding, was there early, but disappeared as the Irish began to wear down in the 2nd half. And Notre Dame’s defense, also a revelation of the last few wins, was present but went missing at key moments, typically with Martinas Geben trying to grab a precious few minutes of rest.
The player of the night was clearly Martinas Geben, who kept the Irish in the game for most of the night with tough defense, 16 points and 9 rebounds. Unfortunately, Georgia Tech picked on Austin Torres with great success and Geben was not afforded much rest. He clearly wore down at the end, collecting only 2 points and no rebounds over the games final 12 minutes.
TJ Gibbs, fresh off an ACC POTW Award, played all 40 minutes. He did most of the heavy lifting on offense, creating off the dribble frequently. This provided mixed results as Gibbs notched 11 points on 4/12 shooting. Rex Pflueger was apparently battling illness, and it showed – he finished with 0 points on 0/8 shooting in 35 minutes. DJ Harvey couldn’t find his stroke early and was 0/4 from the field before hitting two triples late, Elijah Burns was 0/4, and John Mooney picked up a few points of rebounds and drop passes, but also didn’t hit a jumper. And despite a recent buying spree, shares of Nik Djogo remain cheap and fairly easy to come by for at least another game, as he again looked out of sync in the flow of the offense.
Analyzing the Wreckage
Let’s start with the good news. As mentioned in the open, it could be much worse. The wins vs. NC State and Syracuse provide a decent buffer to allow the Irish to get back on track. And fight shown on the boards and on the defensive end in the last two games should give hope. The Irish just played in two locations where they consistently struggle, and especially struggle to shoot. Note that none of the last 4 ND at GT games have crossed 125 points scored, and those were good, full strength Irish teams. And it’s bad luck to have Rex get sick during Farrell’s absence, not say a week after he’s back. The sum of all of those things could/should have added up to a 2-2 or 1-3 start in conference and we successfully avoided that. We still have Boston College twice, at Wake, at NC State and home vs. Pitt left on our schedule thanks to drawing NC State, GT and BC 2x each, so wins are out there for the taking.
Conversely, any way you slice it, tonight was a big missed opportunity. This was the 2nd weakest team in the conference and likely in the top 3-4 in “easiest games remaining.” When you’re trying to scrape and claw your way to 9-10 conference wins to get into the tournament, missed opportunities like this will haunt. If you consider Pitt a win and our games vs. road games Virginia, Duke, Clemson and UNC twice losses, it leaves 8 games left. To get to nine wins, we have to win at least five of those. Of those eight, four are against likely tournament teams, at home. If you want to distill the season down into just a few games, your eyes should be turning to our shots against Louisville, Virginia Tech, Florida St and Miami. Winning one or two of those is now essential to any chance the Irish have to scrape into the the tournament. Stay tuned, as the first of those four is up next Tuesday when rival Louisville comes to town. In the interim, the Irish will try to steal a win vs. powerhouse UNC on Saturday at the Purcell Pavilion.
(Photo Credit: Adam Hagy, USA Today Sports)