The Notre Dame men's basketball team was thoroughly outworked and outclassed in their first ever ACC game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, suffering a crushing 90-60 defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils.
The Irish started the game with back-to-back threes from Steve Vasturia and Pat Connaughton, grabbing an early 6-0 lead. Unfortunately, this proved to be a false beacon of hope, as Duke immediately rattled off a 14-0 run in response. The Irish uncharacteristically opened in a 2-3 zone in an attempt to limit penetration from the hyper-athletic Blue Devils. However, Duke displayed some incredible ball movement, tearing apart the Irish defense and essentially scoring at will for the majority of the first half.
The Irish looked like they might gain some momentum after Jahlil Okafor picked up successive fouls, forcing him to the bench with 12:00 left in the first half. However, Quinn Cook and Matt Jones just took Okafor's benching as a cue to light up the nets from deep. Duke shot 7-8 from three-point range in the first half, as well as an unbelievable 81% (!) from the field.
On the offensive side, the Irish looked like a completely different team than the one that put up 77 points against the Blue Devils at home. Duke, not known for their defensive prowess, displayed fantastic defensive intensity throughout the game, not allowing any Irish guards an inch of space. Any time an Irish player penetrated the defense, the Duke help was unbelievably quick and effective. The extreme ball pressure seemed to get into the Irish's heads, as they committed many careless turnovers and failed to find open perimeter looks.
While completely shutting down the Irish on defense, Duke extended their lead to 43-13 late in the first half, essentially ending the game at with 24 minutes left to play.
In the second half, the Irish showed a bit more energy, feeding off the inspiring play of Bonzie Colson. On a day where Jahlil Okafor couldn't miss near the rim, Colson once again seemed to be the most effective at limiting his damage. Despite being outsized by 6 inches, Colson bodied up Okafor as well as he could and made things difficult for the future #1 pick. On the offensive side, Bonzie continued to stroke it from midrange. Successive Colson buckets brought the Irish within 18 points near the 13-minute mark of the second half.
Duke quickly dispelled any hope of a Notre Dame comeback, with the mightily impressive Justise Winslow scoring 7 quick points in the midst of a 12-0 Duke run. Despite the blowout nature of the game, Duke continued to feed off the energy of the raucous Cameron Crazies, extending the lead to an ugly 35 points before Mike Brey officially raised the white flag, emptying his bench for the last five minutes of action.
In a season full of optimism and nail-biting Irish victories, this game served as a harsh reality check for the Irish. Just about every doubt that lingers around Notre Dame's merit as a postseason threat was exposed today-shoddy defense, overdependence on the deep ball, etc. While Notre Dame certainly played its worst game of the season, plenty of this blowout was due to a phenomenal effort by the Blue Devils. Duke's hustle, particularly in transition, was overwhelming-there were always two or three defenders sprinting back to prevent any easy Irish buckets, forcing the Irish to score from the halfcourt. Combine that with their 60% three-point shooting, and Duke seemed capable of being the best team in the nation.
Despite this, the Irish have to remember that this was just one game, played in the toughest conditions they will face all year. While this loss likely takes the Irish out of the race for the ACC regular-season title, they still sit at 21-4 overall, and 9-3 in the league. They are currently 3rd place in the ACC, but tied in the loss column with 4th and 5th place Duke and UNC. It will be imperative for the Irish to hang on to a top-4 finish in the ACC, securing a coveted double-bye in the ACC tournament.
The Irish will look to rebound on the road this Tuesday against a sneaky-decent Clemson team that has won 4 straight.
Some additional thoughts on this demoralizing loss:
- Zach Auguste submitted perhaps his worst performance of the season, airballing hook shots in his only two field goal attempts of the day and getting abused on the defensive end by Okafor. Prior to this season, I would have been shocked to be told that I'd prefer 6'5" Bonzie Colson in the post rather than Auguste, but this is becoming reality. Apparently Brey might agree, as Auguste played a mere 13 minutes.
- Jerian Grant did not have his mojo today. He seemed quite passive in the first half, which isn't atypical of Grant, but his shooting was just atrocious throughout the game. He got to the hoop as always, but shot a ridiculous 1-7 from the charity stripe.
- The free throw shooting deserves a bullet of its own. The Irish made their last three free throw attempts, raising their percentage on the game to...35.3%. How a team that prides itself on its shooting can go 6-17 from the line is beyond me, but it is emblematic of the Irish's deer-in-the-headlights mentality today.
- Not that it would have made much of a difference, but I'd be remiss not to mention the refereeing. Duke received foul calls on just about every drive to the hoop, preventing the Irish from having any chance at a sizeable run. But when the Irish had the ball, the zebras really swallowed their whistles. Grant was hacked on multiple drives with no fouls being called. Okafor had a few egregious hacks that went uncalled. Finally, there were plenty of hand-checks committed by the intense Duke defense, but the refs rarely called it. Instead of the video-game logic sometimes employed by refs to make games closer, the Irish were just buried by the whistles.
- I already mentioned him, but Justise Winslow is a flat-out beast. Okafor gets most of the press, and deservedly so, but Winslow looks like a lottery-pick talent that could be a gamechanger at the next level.