Maybe the deep freeze from South Bend hadn't fully thawed Mike Brey's Notre Dame Fighting Irish Wednesday evening. For 29 minutes, the Miami Hurricanes hot shooting and athletic defense dominated Notre Dame. Jim Larranaga's Miami squad had managed to build a 15 point lead, but a couple of ill timed turnovers let Notre Dame work their way back in to the ball game, and the Irish managed to cut the Miami lead to 1 after a Steve Vasturia 3 with 0:36 remaining in the game.
Late game execution hurt the Irish again. They couldn't keep the ball out of Rion Brown's hands, and the senior calmly iced his FT's to keep Miami out in front. The Miami senior was spectacular all night, going off for 21 points on 51% eFG shooting from the floor and a perfect 6-6 from the line. Speaking of the FT line, Notre Dame scored only 3 points on 50% shooting from the line. If you thought the BC game was a sign of ND breaking out of their funk from the stripe, this game brought things back to the season norm.
Much like the game went from bad news to good news to bad news, so will this recap.
The Notre Dame big men struggled Wed night. We knew Miami had athletic front line players and impressive shot blockers, and they seemed to get in the heads of the ND bigs. Garrick Sherman, Tom Knight, Zach Auguste, and Austin Burgett went a combined 3-13 from the field, with only Sherman making a FG and Auguste not even attempting a shot. There were defensive lapses and frequent challenges clearing the defensive boards. Miami had 11 offensive rebounds to ND's 14 defensive rebounds. You want to see that stat closer to 1:2 like Miami achieved with ND's 12 offensive rebounds to Miami's 25 defensive boards. Auguste and Burgett were very limited and didn't manage a single defensive rebound between them. Sherman played long enough to get up 9 shots and commit a turnover, but could only manage a single defensive rebound. Mike Brey has to get through to his bigs. Their defense needs to continue through boxing out and securing the board. You can excuse the offensive struggles, but the defensive effort is what killed that unit on Wednesday.
The positives to take away from this game include a great shooting night from Pat Connaughton. The Massachusetts native seems refreshed from his trip back home and knocked down 6 of 7 threes. V.J. Beachem also looked much more at home on the floor and competed well. He was 3rd on the team in scoring with 8 points. Welcome back Demetrius Jackson. The talented guard returned from exile with fresh legs and played a much better game. Yes, there are rough edges with the young freshman, but he pushed pace and reversed the ball well to get Connaughton multiple good looks. He was instrumental in getting the Irish back in the game late. Unfortunately, some of the aggression wore off and he pumped/clutched at the rim again on his last attempt and it cost him. Overall, Mike Brey and his staff have to be thrilled to see Jackson come back out aggressive and energized, pouring in 17 points and leading the team with 5 assists.
Despite the great run and glimmers of hope from the 3 leading scorers, the result is what goes in the books, and Notre Dame just handed Miami their very first home victory in the ACC this season. Notre Dame couldn't afford to thaw out slowly in Miami, and it took them 25+ minutes to get started in this game. Without a meaningful contribution from any of the bigs, the Irish still managed to make it close, but now, the Irish sit at 5-9 with contests versus UVa, GT, Pitt and UNC remaining. It is tough to see Notre Dame getting through that anything better than 6-12, which will have them near the very bottom of the bracket in their inaugural ACC tournament in March. If the Irish can't find a way to defend between now and then, it will be a pretty brief trip to lovely North Carolina.
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