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The Boys Are Back: A Firsthand Recap of Notre Dame’s 69-65 Victory Over Virginia

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Let’s get ready for a couple absolutely MASSIVE games this week (tonight and Wednesday) by reliving the big win over Virginia this past Saturday

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, it had been a minute.

Scratch that, it had been approximately 1,015,200 minutes. That’s roughly how long it had been since I — One Foot Down’s resident idiot, Pat Rick — had been to Purcell Pavilion to cover Mike Brey’s squad in-person from the press box.

So, it was safe to say that that 705-day gap in between my last detailed recap of a Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball game and now was a rough stretch of time, wherein I truly missed being able to break down all the most important highlights from these hoops match-ups — analyzing halftime shows, trying to report on what the student section chanted, always noting how T-Shirt Toss Time goes, etc.

Saturday, I was back on my bullshit, watching the Fighting Irish defeat a Virginia Cavaliers program that may be a bit down right now, but is still a squad and coach who’ve completely owned ND since our heroes joined the ACC back in 2013-2014. That 69-65 victory may not have been the prettiest or smoothest (especially down the stretch), but damnit if it wasn’t still a massive win to get a monkey off Mike Brey’s back and provide just a little added momentum heading into the biggest home game this program has seen in 7 years.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the details of what I witnessed in Purcell on Saturday evening and see what we can learn about this team as we all prepare for the Irish to take on the top two teams in the conference over the course of 72 hours this week.

PREGAME THOUGHTS

I knew it was going to be a solid Saturday almost immediately after waking up. Before diving into my now habitual start to the day of playing Wordle, Ooodle, and Lewdle before doing anything productive, I took a quick glance at my text messages and saw I had a new one from an unknown number.

First of all, I just love spam texts/emails like this. But I especially loved that the amount of money they were waving in my face to try to coax me to click the link was such an arbitrary and weird number, 531. Then I also liked how the next sentence completely contradicted that and said I could be one of three people to earn $500 per day. What happened to that $31??? Is that a signing bonus? A tip? How does it factor in?

Also, what job is this that it requires precisely 3 regular Joes with a computer or smartphone and just two hours a day to complete? Please sound off in the comments if you have any good guesses — I haven’t responded yet and they may have already found their 3 lucky winners, but if it’s something great I’m always open to discussing the opportunity.

Anyway, the last thing I want to mention here is that my Messages app on my Google Pixel (yes, I’m an Android person...are you really surprised?) offers up suggested auto-replies like many social media apps do these days, and I can’t get over the idea of reading that spam text and then replying with either “Okay,” “Nice,” or “Thanks” and saying nothing else. Even though I know you don’t want to even reply to these because it tells them you’re an active number to keep spamming, I was VERY tempted to send one of those dynamite replies despite that fact.

Okay so anyway, that was how I began my day (along with getting Wordle in 4 guesses and Ooodle and Lewdle both in 3, so not too shabby), and it only got better as I made the drive from Chicago to South Bend, seeing as that drive brought me within reading distance of the big sign for the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana location, and that big sign informed me that PAPA ROACH is playing a show there on March 12th. As someone who LOVED hearing “Scars” as one of the three songs played on the radio in the summer of 2005, this put me in one rockin’ mood as I scooted my red Toyota Corolla rental the rest of the way to Purcell Pavilion.

Before heading into the arena, I managed to get a quick brotherly hug from my sophomore brother Timbo, who informed me he unfortunately did NOT get a ticket to the UVA game in the free student lottery but was still waiting to hear on Monday’s Duke game. Which was really a bummer to hear, because *old man yells at cloud voice* BACK IN MY DAY we had to pay $100 for a season ticket booklet before the season began, and although letting the kids get free tickets is unequivocally better than them paying, this game-by-game lottery seems frustrating for any diehard ND hoops fans (no matter how few of those there actually are) who may show up to cheer the team on during the boring match-ups but won’t get to be there for the big games because of the demand those games have in this lottery system.

I don’t know exactly how you fix this issue, but you’d think there should be some sort of base season-ticket crew of Leprechaun Legion folks and then lotteries for leftover seats, or maybe you somehow earn loyalty points by attending the lesser games (I feel like they tried this in years past?) and then those points give you priority for the big ones.

Maybe one of y’all has a good idea in the comments, but I think this system can still be improved upon — and I don’t think tickets being free now is the issue. I just think it’s a bummer to hear someone like my brother who wants to attend these good games might not be able to — the students are often the only fans making any noise at all, so the more of them they can pack into Purcell, the better IMHO.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Anyway, I said farewell to Timbo, picked up my credentials, and settled into my seat in the press box for the first time in nearly 2 years. I immediately enjoyed getting to watch the teams shoot around and warm up, and it especially was fun to watch the Irish bench mob who never gets to play. Specifically, I noticed J.R. Konieczny throw down multiple impressive and athletic-looking dunks. The dude is long and has some hops, which is awesome to see, considering mostly what we heard about him as a prospect was that he was a great shooter/scorer but would need time in strength training to be ready for ACC play. He’s definitely skinny, but there’s some power in that kid’s ability to throw it down. I’ll call it now — I think he emerges as an important contributor off the bench next season.

The other thing I noticed was the final two ND guys out there getting shots up (as everyone else had headed to the locker room), Prentiss Hubb and Blake Wesley. It’s been really fun to watch those two gel over the course of this season and to watch Hubb, who’s basically just been trashed by fans time and again over the years for doing too much and being erratic/streaky, developing into the perfect senior point guard and leader by letting the stud freshman Wesley handle the ball, be the shot creator, etc.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been saying it over the course of his whole career, but I don’t ever think Hubb was really the issue, but more so that he was being asked to do way more than he’s capable of because the team has lacked playmakers until this season. So, he had to try to be that guy for Brey, and his and the team’s play suffered because of it. Now, he’s in the perfect role as a senior point guard who can distribute the ball efficiently, play some defense, and chip in 5-10 points without having to force a bunch of shots at the end of the shot clock. Wesley, meanwhile, is growing each game as a freshman and certainly learning from Hubb and the other veterans, and so it was just a nice, reflective moment to see those two as the last two putting in shooting work before getting ready to play.

Also, while Hubb and Wesley were shooting and then again just a bit afterward, the Purcell DJ played a “Baby Shark” remix that I didn’t hate but also didn’t love. Very interesting choice to play it twice — or maybe it was once and it’s super long? I don’t know, but either way, an odd choice, especially because it was then followed by some Soulja Boy. Luckily, some sort of mashup the DJ played a bit later included “A Thousand Miles” by my girl Vanessa Carlton, so that was much better.

Whereas the DJ was hit or miss early on, the ND band was crushing it from the beginning, as the first couple songs I took note of from them were “Clarity” and then “All The Small Things,” so it’s safe to say I looked like an idiot vibing to the music just a bit much in the press box amongst the real professionals. I also used this time prior to the teams coming back out on the floor to check Twitter, as there were some big sports news reports/rumors going around on Saturday that everyone was tweeting about.

As I took in the gravity of Polian’s big Twitter reveal, I heard a commotion coming from the student section, and looked up to see that Mike Brey had sprinted over to the students to get them riled up after the team came back out for final warmups. Whatever you want to say about Mike Brey after the last few years, you CANNOT call into question how much he cares about this team, program, school, students, etc. — the man is doing everything he can to drum up support and make sure this class of seniors finishes much better than how they started.

That’s the Brey we all grew to love and it’s fun to see him have a real reason to act with such passion and energy and “looseness” again after a tough 4-year stretch of basketball.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After Molly McDonough sang a crisp and lovely version of the national anthem, we made it to team intros, and once the student section had read their newspapers and yelled “SUCKS” during Virginia’s announced starting lineup, Purcell hit the lights and used fans’ phones to orchestrate a cool little light show

They popped on this year’s pump-up video, which per usual was good — I especially liked that the final, lasting image on the Purcell video board is Blake Wesley celebrating with the Leprechaun Legion after his game-winner against Kentucky. That’s a cool/electric moment.

However, I must say that I miss the song they used to use in the pump-up video back in the day — probably circa 2009-2011 or so — “300 Violin Orchestra” by Jorge Quintero.

There’s something about that song that just builds and gets me going, ya know? Also shout out that specific 2010-2011 video and the team it was used for — those guys were suuuuper close to being a 1-seed that year, and despite their disappointing 2nd round exit against a 10-seed, they were sooooooooo fun to watch and really gave Irish fans hope that something like 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 was possible.

Here’s one more throwback video of that team, just to remind you how fun that team was:

Okay, enough living in the past. The whole point of this recap and this team’s recent performance is to give us Irish hoops fans the first present-day happiness and hope and confidence we’ve had since White Steve was roaming the Purcell hardwood. Let’s get into it.

STARTERS

Virginia

  • Kihei Clark, G
  • Armaan Franklin, G — SHOUT OUT CATHEDRAL HIGH SCHOOL, G’IRISH BAYBEEEE
  • Reece Beekman, G
  • Jayden Gardner, F
  • Francisco Caffaro, C

Notre Dame

  • Prentiss Hubb, G
  • Blake Wesley, G
  • Dane “Daney G” Goodwin, G
  • Nate “Zewski” Laszewski, F
  • Paul Atkinson Jr., F
  • 6th Man: the Leprechaun Legion*

*Pat Rick Note: they legitimately announced this as part of the ND intros

1ST HALF ACTION

The Irish were a little slow out of the gate in this one, going down 4-0 after the first minute of play and setting a dangerous standard early for how many offensive rebounds and second chances they planned to give Virginia on the evening (UVA had 4 offensive rebounds in the first 4:20 of play and would finish with 12 en route to out-rebounding the Irish by 13). However, Blake Wesley quickly had had enough of that, burying two three-pointers separated by a Virginia bucket to give us a 6-6 game at the first media timeout. In a rough shooting day for Wesley (at least from the field), those would be his only field goals of the game.

During the timeout, I noticed a fan arriving to his seat in a retro Minnesota Timberwolves Kevin Garnett jersey, which I thought was a fun and bold choice to wear to a Notre Dame-Virginia game. I like to think that man spent the evening chanting for them to put Garnett in, and then trying to find him outside the locker room after the game for an autograph. He might still be there waiting for him...

Also during the timeout, the Purcell video board ran a “FAST BREAK” 60-second question-and-answer video with Cormac Ryan answering rapid-fire questions about himself and the team. Some key things Cormac’s FAST BREAK session taught us:

  1. Cormac can do card tricks
  2. His favorite part of practice is “the end”
  3. The player most like him, after a long pause, is Zewski
  4. He said J.R. is the best dunker on the team*
  5. He said Elijah Morgan is the worst dunker on the team

*Pat Rick Note: combining this with what I observed during warmups, Konieczny might be about to give us some high-flying highlights over the next few years. It’s wild that on a team with future 1st round pick Blake Wesley, Wesley isn’t the best dunker on the team.

NCAA Basketball: Western Michigan at Notre Dame
this guy is.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Back to the action...early on in the contest, it was clear that the official 6th man, the Leprechaun Legion, had once again brought their A-game on free throw defense, forcing Cavaliers center Francisco Caffaro to miss one of his two free throws early on. The Lep Legion, as you will notice throughout this recap, did a really good job defending the rim on free throws on the evening, holding UVA to 67% shooting from the line.

Unfortunately, the Leprechaun Legion isn’t able to help play actual defense, and at one point mid-first half, Virginia went on a 7-0 run in a stretch that bullied the Irish a bit and tied the game at 19. Fortunately, Paul Atkinson Jr. is a steady and reliable go-to option on the block, and he managed back-to-back baskets to put the Irish back up 4 with a little more than 7 minutes left in the first half.

On an ensuing defensive possession, Prentiss Hubb made a fantastic block from behind on an unsuspecting UVA shooter at the rim, giving him his 2nd block of the half. He would finish the game with 2 (really should have been 3 except for a ticky-tack foul called on another one), and that’s actually the second game in a row where he’s tallied two blocks.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Georgia Tech vs Notre Dame Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

So, since I only really have nicknames for Daney G and Zewski right now, I’m officially calling for a rim protector-themed nickname for our guy Prentiss, ASAP.

Some initial ideas:

  • “The Hubber Dam”: this is somewhat of a stretch, but especially if you pronounce it with a long “u” so it sounds like “Hoover,” I think it could work
  • “The Dentist”: I know this is typically more of a hockey enforcer kind of nickname, but I like to think it could mean he’s extracting opponent shots with precision, like a dentist pulling teeth...plus it’ll just be fun to say “Prentiss the Dentist”
  • “Hondo”: that’s the name of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the 2003 movie S.W.A.T. (based on the 1975 TV series), and he was the sergeant in charge of a S.W.A.T. team featuring Colin Farrell, LL Cool J, Michelle Rodriguez, and Josh Charles...pretty awesome, IMO

Please sound off in the comments with any other good ideas — as you all know from my past (White Steve, John Mutton, Zewski, Daney G, etc.), I have no qualms adopting a stupid nickname and making it the official OFD nickname for a player. But sometimes I’m not great at coming up with the nickname myself — I need you all to inspire me!

After the under-8 media timeout, Daney G drilled a long ball to make up for no one seeing/passing to a wide open Atkinson underneath the hoop, and so the Irish briefly led by 7 until Jayden Gardner got himself another second-chance bucket down low.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

During the next media timeout, the Notre Dame Pom Squad took the floor, and per usual, I took note of if/when they decided to ditch their pom poms and become, simply, a “Squad.” Sure enough, they know at this point that the fans LOVE when they cast their pom poms asunder mid-performance, and so the Pom Squad tossed them to the side amidst dancing to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and the crowd ATE THAT UP.

The Purcell coordinator of in-game events capitalized on the momentum “The Squad” created, sending out the cheerleaders for the first T-Shirt Toss Time of the game, and BOY did the grown-adults-who-love-free-t-shirts-that-probably-won’t-fit faction of the fans in attendance go crazy. Nothing, including the actual basketball happening during the game, gets adult ND hoops fans to stand up like the possibility of getting a free t-shirt.*

*Pat Rick Note: considering the students are essentially the only fans standing and making noise for the majority of the game, I wonder if ND committed to a game-long T-Shirt Toss Time event if that would give Purcell the wildest and most raucous crowd it’s seen in years? Just a thought with Duke coming to town tomorrow...

In the return to action, Daney G got caught swinging his elbows a little too close to Armaan Franklin’s face as he tried to clear some space at the top of the key, and so the refs went to the monitor to review. All of us in attendance assumed this was to review if it should be considered a flagrant foul, but instead the refs came back and assessed Franklin with a foul...for...letting his face come close to Goodwin’s elbows? I’m not sure, to be honest, but Daney G missed the free throw anyway, so I guess ball don’t lie and all that jazz.

Later, as UVA shoots some more free throws (on the opposite end of the Leprechaun Legion in this first half), the Legion again shows great form in attempting to stop the foul shooter, waving their arms at a shooter who cannot see them at all. This time it didn’t work, but their efforts would certainly pay off some down the stretch of this one.

With less than 3 minutes until halftime, Wesley made a really nice pass to find a wide open Atkinson under the hoop, and Atkinson converted on a STRONG dunk as the defense quickly converged on him. Immediately following that, Wesley rebounded a Franklin missed three and pushed it in transition, feeding Cormac Ryan for a nice little layup that pushed the ND lead to 7 and got the Purcell crowd truly LOUD for one of the first times in the game. Jayden Gardner would get a quick layup to quiet the crowd a bit, but Atkinson answered that with a basket of his own, and the Irish faithful roared again.

For the final 1:22 of the half, neither team scored, and so the Irish jogged into the locker room with a very acceptable 7-point halftime lead over a Virginia program that none of the current players had ever beaten and that Mike Brey himself had only defeated once since joining the ACC.

HALFTIME STATS

HALFTIME ENTERTAINMENT

If anyone reading this has ever read my long recaps before, you know I always score halftime entertainment on a scale of 1 to Red Panda, with Red Panda being the absolute GOAT in terms of entertaining halftime acts.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Connecticut at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s halftime entertainment, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired. A fan (I assume a student) named Drew was brought out with the chance to win money shooting a layup, free throw, three-pointer, and half-court shot. Drew looked confident as he absolutely BURIED his layup attempt, winning $50 right away.

However, that would be the best moment for Drew on the evening, as he missed the free throw attempt for $100, bricked his $250 three-point shot, and then came up remarkably short when he air-balled the $500 half-court shot. So, our good pal Drew walked away with $50 in his pocket, “courtesy of the South Bend International Airport.” I thought that sponsor of that entertainment was funny for some reason.

There was a nice moment after Drew’s lackluster shooting performance, as Jo Ellen Vest — a breast cancer survivor — was honored on the court. That was an uplifting moment in an otherwise disappointing halftime.

The Purcell DJ DID do a good job attempting to save the intermission, playing Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison,” Archie Eversole’s “We Ready,” and that “beans greens potatoes tomatoes” song that we’ve all grown to love over the years:

However, just due to the lack of a marquee halftime act like Red Panda or those frisbee dogs or even those jump rope kids, I’m forced to give this halftime entertainment a score of:

2.5

Would’ve been lower if not for Jo Ellen and the DJ, folks.

2ND HALF SHENANIGANS

Alrighty, so just like in the first, the second half opened with Virginia scoring, because this Irish squad is simply too cool to try hard in the beginning of a period. Zewski, however — ever the nerd — didn’t enjoy the fact that Virginia was all of a sudden only down 4, and so he quickly responded with a three to push the Irish back up by their halftime lead of 7.

A few possessions later, after UVA had scored another bucket or two to quiet the arena a bit, a far-off Virginia fan could be heard yelling something like “DEFENSE!” to encourage the Wahoos on the defensive end. In a still mostly quiet arena, another voice quickly shouted back “SHUT UP!” I thought it was a fun interaction and salute the Irish fan for disallowing that kind of easy support of the away team in Purcell.

Clearly, with Purcell being quiet enough to hear that interaction multiple sections over, the Irish fans needed a big play or two to rev them back up. Enter Blake Wesley, who proved you don’t need to be hitting your shots from the field to have a major impact on the game:

Throughout the second half, Virginia did a good job to answer nice momentum-building plays like the above almost immediately, but the Irish typically had a response or two of their own for any major moves UVA made in chipping away at the deficit. For instance, right after Goodwin’s reverse layup, Virginia got themselves a bucket but then Prentiss Hubb immediately converted on a nice little finger roll in the paint to push the Irish lead back to 41-33 at the under-16 media timeout.

During said timeout, the ND band and Purcell DJ had themselves a nice little tag-team combo, as the band blasted “Mr. Brightside” and then the Purcell video board got the whole crowd clapping and stomping while showing a clip from Bohemian Rhapsody to lead into some classic “We Will Rock You.” If you had “see Rami Malek” on your BINGO board for this game, go ahead and mark it down — I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t expecting to see Rami Malek while at the Notre Dame vs. Virginia basketball game.

Saturday Night Live - Season 47 Photo By: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

In the next series of action, Zewski once again buried a three, pushing ND’s lead to 10. Virginia immediately responded with a Francisco Caffaro hook shot and a quick timeout, but the Irish still clearly had the momentum now with an 8-point lead and the ball. To celebrate that fact, this timeout gave the fans a video board trivia game of “What year was it???” and gave three clues:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy was released
  2. “Happy” by Pharrell was a hit song on the Billboard Top 100
  3. Demetrius Jackson dunked on 7’2” Purdue center Isaac Haas

Shout out 2014, it was quite the year!!!

Just before we got back to basketball, the video board panned to a kid in the student section wearing a Tom Brady GOAT t-shirt, almost certainly in response to the (at least for now) false rumors that he was retiring. The crowd’s reaction was solid.

Also I just realized what made me use the BINGO card joke — I refuse to remove mine, despite the fact it was clearly copying Tom’s tweet from Saturday.

Back to basketball: Zewski managed to draw a foul and make 1 of his 2 free throws, and then on a gorgeous Hubb kick-out to Daney G, the Irish got 3 more points and extended their lead to 12 at 49-37 with under 13 minutes left in the game.

During the next media timeout, with the crowd feeling the vibes and looking for some hype music, the ND band played “Sweet Caroline.” I’m sure all the 65-year-old white folks loved it, but I personally felt it took a lot of the air out of the arena. Give the people something better to work them into a frenzy!! That crowd should have been rockin’, up 12 against Virginia at home.

My irritation with the DJ quickly turned into abject terror, as Twitter gave me a pop-up asking me to verify our OFD Twitter account’s email, which is something I cannot do and something that kept me locked out of the account earlier in the week. In my panic, I had the presence of mind to click the refresh button in Chrome, and Twitter dropped the request and went back to normal.

Crisis averted, and just in time — for another T-Shirt Toss Time, that is. Even more grown adults seemed to stand and wave their arms and scream for a free t-shirt this time, as “Jump” by Kris Kross (a MUCH better choice than “Sweet Caroline”) added to the newfound energy. I even saw someone in the student section wearing a dinosaur costume, which only served to excite me and everyone else in attendance even more.

Another Daney G three out of the break pushed the ND lead to 15, and at that point most normal teams would keep pushing and step on the opposition’s throats. Unfortunately, this ND team refuses to play in not-close games most of the time, and Saturday evening was no different. They immediately gave up a 6-0 run to let Virginia stay within striking distance at 52-43 with just over 9 minutes to go.

At this time, apparently, the TV broadcast on the ACC Network gave viewers at home a split screen showing the game on one part and Mike Brey just being Mike Brey in the other part. Here’s what my buddy Hux had to say about it:

After seeing a student on the video board with the absolute reddest, ginger-est hair I’ve ever seen, the Irish continued to struggle and allow Virginia back into the game. Zewski air-balled a three, Cormac Ryan threw a cross-court pass right to a Cavaliers player, etc.

Luckily, the Leprechaun Legion once again had their back, playing excellent free throw defense to force Kihei Clark to miss two of two from the free throw line. He would get another two shots very soon after, and the student section saw blood in the water, chanting “0-FOR-4!” *CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP* “0-FOR-4!” loudly and clearly as Clark stared down their McLovin ID flag in the front row.

Unfortunately, Clark would not succumb to their peer pressure to miss his next two free throws, hitting both shots to make it a 52-45 game. Zewski once again decided to lay down the law, though, and knocked down another one from long range.

With 7:50 to play, the Irish held a commanding 10-point lead and looked good to hopefully cruise to a comfortable victory.

I should have known from watching the students do the “1812 Overture” that nothing would come that smoothly down the stretch, though. One row of students maybe like 5 rows back from the front was just completely off — and by completely I mean they were doing the exact opposite of everyone else — for the entirety of the tune. They never noticed or changed their cadence or anything.

For a few possessions the most noteworthy highlights were Wesley missing a layup because he took off a bit too far away from the hoop, and then Atkinson tipping the ball back toward the hoop and getting a wedgie with the ball stuck between the rim and backboard. Virginia capitalized on ND’s shenanigans to score and make it a single-digit game yet again.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish continued to get decent looks but just fail to hit shots, giving Virginia multiple chances on many of their possessions as well. By the time Caffaro stole the ball and dunked it on the other end*, ND held just a 57-53 lead with 2:50 to play.

*Pat Rick Note: the Leprechaun Legion had JUST begun to chant “WE ARE!” *CLAP* *CLAP* “N-D!” when Caffaro made his play, and I think this perfectly represents the opinion I’ve been pushing on OFD for years: that chant should only be saved for the final moments/anytime after a major victory, or if ND is just absolutely thrashing an opponent and it’s clear the Irish are going to win. When I was a student, I noticed the folks who ran the Lep Legion and orchestrated the chants would start the WE ARE ND chant at the stupidest times, like after Syracuse would go on a 12-0 run or with the Irish losing by 5 late in the game. Please, please stop chanting that when it doesn’t make sense to.

After Caffaro’s dunk, Atkinson did manage to post up on the block, back his man down, and convert on a basket to give the Irish a 6-point lead heading into a timeout. During that timeout, the video board played a montage of highlights from recently set to the song “The Boys Are Back” by Dropkick Murphys, and the crowd — specifically, and really exclusively, the student section — really seemed to get amped-up because of it.

I gotta admit, I did too. The song slaps, and there’s a part where they say “It’s been a long time coming,” which to me couldn’t be more appropriate for a team than this one. It’s been a tough last 4 years of ND hoops so it’s been a long time coming, but the boys are back and they’re making some noise in the ACC.

The Irish got a stop out of the break, but couldn’t convert on the offensive end. However, UVA then turned it over on a moving screen by Caffaro, which led to the most electric play of the evening. Blake Wesley, still attacking despite his rough shooting day, made a nice drive into the paint, then slung a nice left-handed pass around the defender and out to Hubb on the perimeter. The pass was impressive to get there at all, but low, and so Hubb made a really skilled play to snag the low pass and deftly flip it with two hands to his left to Goodwin.

Daney G, catching the ball in rhythm but sensing a defender just a bit too close for a clean shot, put forth a devastating pump-fake and lone side-step dribble to discard the leaping defender and give himself room to shoot.

The senior who currently sits 13th in the country in 3-point percentage (2nd among P5 conference players) absolutely splashed the shot through the net, giving the Irish a 62-53 lead with 1:07 to go.

Should be a done deal at that point, right?

Well, with this team and its inability to handle the full court press of any opponent...not so much. Franklin hit a jumper for the Cavaliers, the Irish struggled to bring the ball up, Hubb had his third block stolen from him due to a foul call that gave UVA a free throw, and then after a couple Wesley free throws, Clark quickly converted on an easy layup on the other end.

Virginia trailed just 64-58 with 29 seconds still remaining.

On the subsequent inbound, of course the Irish could not get the ball in and were forced to use a timeout. That didn’t really help, though, as ND’s next attempt to pass it in ended up deflected out of bounds off of the Irish.

Wesley managed to add one free throw to the Irish’s total on the next ND possession, but then another quick and easy bucket from Clark made it 65-60. Six seconds later, Virginia had stolen the ball back again and Beekman had dunked it to make it 65-62 with 14 seconds to play.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The next inbound was not suddenly successful for the Irish, either, as they nearly threw it out of bounds and gave Virginia the ball and a chance to tie it.

However, when Cormac Ryan jumped into the UVA bench to save the ball, instead of saving it on the same end and potentially setting the Wahoos up for another bucket with numbers in their advantage, he instead twisted in mid-air and hurled the ball down toward the other hoop.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Daney G, ever the scorer, immediately took off down the floor in a footrace with a UVA player. Mike Brey would later laugh in his postgame presser about Goodwin being such a scorer that he refused to make the smart play and pull the ball back out, and instead immediately went up for the bucket. He couldn’t get it to fall, but drew a foul and hit both free throws to make it 67-62 with 11 seconds left.

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath. NOW it’s over. Right?

“WRONG!!!!!”

— Kihei Clark as he drains a three from the parking lot to make it 67-65 with 8 seconds left.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish, thus, would need to successfully inbound the ball, draw a foul, and hit AT LEAST one of their free throws (hopefully both). All of that seemed like a tall task to Irish fans after the team’s failure to put their opponent away down the stretch.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Nevertheless, senior captain Prentiss Hubb took the game into his clutch-as-hell hands, snagging the inbound pass, securing it as he got fouled, and then coolly burying both free throws to give the Irish a NICE 69-65 win over a team they basically always lose to. Not too shabby, my guy.

Mike Brey ran over to the student section to celebrate with them and encourage them to see him there in 48 hours for Duke — then they sang the alma mater and cleared out.

As the fans filed out and I cleaned up some of my game notes and shot off a few final tweets from the OFD account, a man walked up to the press box from the section just in front of us and made a point to tell me he enjoys my stuff. Assuming he knew who I was/that I wrote for OFD, that was a pretty fun little moment to hear we had an avid reader in the house. If this was you, please feel free to comment so I know who you were! That made my night.

FINAL STATS

STRAY OBSERVATIONS

  • Okay before I get into what’s about to come for the Irish, let’s quickly just reflect on what this team has managed to do so far. They appeared to be dead in the water well before we even got to 2022, thanks to the fact they managed to lose 4 out of 5 games in a stretch where their only win was D-II Chaminade in the Losers’ Bracket of the Maui Invitational, and the final game in that stretch was a 16-point WALLOPING at the hands of potentially the worst program in the ACC to kick off conference play.

Everyone was once again calling for Brey’s head, trashing the play of guys like Hubb and Laszewski (and much of the valid basketball criticism was at least somewhat warranted at that point, although most took it way too far with their weird vitriol for college athletes not performing up to their personal standards as a fan), and the general assumption was that a “successful” rest of the year would be the team pulling off a miracle to end up on the right side of .500 and in the NIT.

  • Then, the Irish upset Kentucky — in just the second game since Blake Wesley had been moved into the starting lineup. And yet still, it seemed more like a flukey upset than a sign that this team would put it together. And that seemed to be confirmed when the Irish failed to show up against Indiana in that Godforsaken Crossroads Classic (thank God it’s dead). A couple meh wins over cupcakes and barely scraping by with a win at Pittsburgh did nothing to make us think differently as we entered the new year.

And yet that’s when the impressive part of what this team has done truly took shape. The Irish took down North Carolina at home, then went on the road and won a tough one at Georgia Tech. A decisive win over Clemson all of a sudden had the Irish 4-1 in conference play, which was certainly a surprise.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, they dropped one at Virginia Tech mid-month that they absolutely shouldn’t have, both due to the opponent and how most of that game played out. And their response to that was to baaaaarely defeat Howard. But since then, the Irish have looked pretty darn good against some middle-of-the-pack ACC teams in Louisville, NC State, and Virginia, managing to win them all and now looking at a 7-2 ACC record, which has them tied for 2nd with Duke and just behind Miami for 1st place. Yeah, it’s another down year for the ACC, but even in a down year, did ANY OF US expect ND to be where they are as January ends??? Hell no.

It’s been fun as hell just for the team to be fun as hell to watch again, and for the first time in the last 4 years, the team actually looks confident and capable of staying in the NCAA Tourney conversation.

With the above said, I want to quickly reflect on some of the key guys that have driven this success — winners of 11 of their last 13, 9-0 at home, and all of a sudden a team that maaaaay just go dancing.

  • Prentiss Hubb: I went over this some early in this article, but just want to repeat it...this guy has done nothing but get trashed by every idiot with a Twitter account or NDNation handle since he stepped foot on campus, as he struggled to live up to his billing as the next great ND point guard and had to shoulder way too much of the playmaking burden on some really bad basketball teams the last couple years. Even this season, with some rough performances early on, I’d get people replying to my live tweets from the OFD account saying Notre Dame should take away his scholarship, cut him, bench him, etc.

I know those people are largely the trolls of the internet, but I would love to hear from some of them now that Hubb has been able to assume a role much more befitting his skill set — that of a distributor and secondary playmaker who doesn’t have to be the one to always break down the defense on his own. He’s absolutely thriving all of a sudden:

He’s now playing within himself, finding his teammates for easy buckets, playing good defense, and most importantly being a strong leader for everyone out there...but especially a leader and mentor for Wesley, who still shows flashes that remind us he’s only a rookie.

Without Hubb, this team isn’t positioned like it is today — he has hit game-winning and game-sealing shots in multiple games, and has made a number of huge hustle plays in others to help ensure the wins keep coming. And I gotta say, it warms my heart to see this kid finally settle into the right role and flourish before he graduates.

He’s always seemed like a nice, hard-working kid who simply tried to do too much too often and got blamed for some things that were really outside his control or the shortcomings of the coaching staff. Now he’s got the help he needs to drive the bus and bring this team back to the Big Dance — and I’m hoping you all hop on with me to enjoy the ride.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • Nate Laszewski: Zewski has always been considered the guy in the 2018 recruiting class with the most pro potential, considering his size and shooting ability. However, it took him a while to really figure out his role, similar to Hubb, considering the Irish really needed him to help down low but Zewski was always more suited to try to stay on the perimeter and shoot threes. Now, with a co-star in the paint in Atkinson who never needs to drift outside because he’s not a shooter, Zewski is free to just be a match-up nightmare for opposing teams as a huge guy who will BURY a three if you give him space, but also a guy aggressive and athletic enough to beat a big man off the dribble and attack the hoop successfully if he gets the chance.

Early in the season, this simply wasn’t the case. I don’t know if Zewski was just in a slump or hadn’t figured out how the new pieces fit in with him and the rest of the veterans yet, but it took a little while for him to start really asserting himself on offense, hunting his shot, etc. However, once he did, and paired with what’s really become a solid ability to rebound and adequate defensive skills, Zewski has morphed into an absolute WEAPON out there.

He’s been absolutely lethal in conference play from the outside, has been a tough rebounder down low, and especially recently has really just stepped up and shown he’s ready to help lead this team back to success.

And listen, most of the praise should go to Zewski himself, but I do need to point out that ever since I started calling him “Zewski” back on January 5th during the UNC game, Zewski’s numbers have been fantastic (60% FG, 60% 3FG, 77% FT, 11.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg) and the Irish are 7-1.

Clearly, the stupid nicknames I assign to these guys mean something. Long live John Mutton, White Steve, The Bird Whisperer, etc., etc.

  • Dane Goodwin: I don’t think I need to spend tooooo long on this one, because it’s been the most obvious glow-up amongst the 2018 recruiting class this season, but how AWESOME has our guy Daney G been this year???

His first three seasons in the program, I would argue he had always shown he could shoot and score and add some help on the boards, but he was streaky as hell (especially in road games) and could be a liability on defense at times. He certainly wasn’t an All-ACC kind of player, nor was he someone you could rely on from game to game.

But now? I mean, c’mon you guys. Dane Goodwin is currently averaging 15.4 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting FIFTY PERCENT FROM THREE, 52% from the field, and 88% from the free throw line.

That three-point shooting percentage is currently 6th in the country and tied for 1st with Duke’s AJ Griffin for best from a Power-5 conference player, and that 15.4 ppg is Top-10 in the ACC.

And the best thing about it is he does all of the above CONSISTENTLY. It’s no longer a question of “will this be a game Dane Goodwin scores 18 or scores 4?” but instead he’s pouring in 10-20 points on a daily basis.

That’s absolutely right, @KdDietz — Daney G has turned himself into an absolute goooooooon in the best way possible, and it needs to be noted that he has already said he will likely return next season, which means if Wesley comes back the 2022-2023 team could feature a backcourt of Wesley, Goodwin, and McDonald’s All-American J.J. Starling.

I don’t think any of us would be opposed to that, would we?

  • Blake Wesley and Paul Atkinson Jr.: these observations were mainly to point out the old guys and how they’re finally putting it all together, but can we just quickly reflect on how fun and huge it’s been to have the veteran inside presence of Atkinson — who has been an excellent source of offense when others have gone cold — and the electric playmaking ability of Wesley — playmaking and athleticism this program hasn’t had in 5+ years — to add to the slew of shooters this team already had?

They’re both perfect complements to guys like Goodwin and Laszewski, and watching how their abilities have opened up the offense and made it hum has been such a joy. Here’s to hoping we get treated to one more season of Blake in an Irish uniform before he heads off to join Pat Connaughton as an ND representative in the NBA!

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
  • I wanna give a quick shout-out to Cormac Ryan too, as he’s certainly not been as much of a scorer or creator as some of us expected when he transferred in, but he HAS been an absolutely essential guy in just about every late-game situation this season, considering he makes about 1,000 tiny, intangible plays per game that end up making the difference — his save and heave downcourt to Goodwin on Saturday being the latest.

His defense, his intensity, his willingness to do anything needed to win — every team needs guys like that, and it’s been fun to see him not just embrace that role, but be nearly perfect within it.

Other rapid-fire thoughts about Saturday’s game/the season to this point:

  • ND had 16 assists on 22 made shots against UVA — that is some vintage Breyball and I love it
  • It hasn’t happened every game (and can help explain struggles or even losses in some games, like Virginia Tech), but the Irish have done a pretty solid job defending the perimeter of late. UVA was held to 21% shooting from long range. NC State was held to 32%. Howard was held to 30%. Clemson was held to 19%. If the Irish can continue to hit their own threes while making it tough for opponents to counter, they’re gonna find lots of success.
  • Oh, also shout-out to Tony Bennett for this stat he provided in his postgame presser: ND is undefeated when they hit 10 three-pointers. So keep that in mind as you watch these games — if the Irish can get 30 points from long range, they stand a great chance of winning the game.
  • The Purcell DJ never played “Sandstorm” during timeout after any big ND moments against UVA. Gotta hope he was just holding that back for the second half of Duke, after another big bucket by the Irish, so as to whip the crowd into an absolute frenzy.
  • It would be awesome for the team to get more from Trey Wertz. Not sure if his confidence is just shot or what, but he’s not getting a ton of PT right now because he’s not contributing much while on the floor. He needs to find a way to earn more minutes (for everyone’s sake in the 7-man rotation), even if it’s just via playing really tough defense and helping handle and distribute the ball on offense.

LOOKING FORWARD

This is about to be the most important 3-day stretch of Notre Dame basketball since BONZIE COLSON and Matt Farrell were suiting up, if not before that (maybe since the 2015 Duke game in late January???).

Tonight, the Irish host a top-10 Duke Blue Devils team currently tied with ND for 2nd in the conference. It’s Coach K’s farewell tour, which means this one is going to mean a lot to both him and Coach Brey as the last time they face each other (barring an ACC Tourney rematch), but it also just means a lot for conference standings positioning. The winner will be tied with the Miami Hurricanes in first, and with the Irish traveling to Miami for a Wednesday night game just two days after this one, the Irish could find themselves anywhere from alone in 1st to tumbled down to 5th or 6th in the conference standings by the time we get to Thursday.

Considering this team’s rough start to the year and bad non-conference performance (excluding Kentucky), picking up a win in at least one of these next two — especially if the one is over a top-10 Duke team — is huge for the team’s tournament resume, and could honestly be the difference between ND ending up on the right or wrong side of the bubble come March.

But let’s stow all the “let’s just try to win one of these” talk.

Fuck that.

(pardon the language, but I’m all sorts of pumped up for this week).

Why don’t the Irish keep the good times rolling and just go out there tonight and Wednesday and take control of this conference that’s been beating it down for the past 4 seasons? Why not this team, huh??

Let’s light this candle — Go Irish, Beat Blue Devils/Hurricanes. THE BOYS ARE BACK.