It wasn’t easy. It never is with this Notre Dame team. Winning comfortably is really a foreign concept to an absurdly veteran team. Regardless, the Irish (9-8, 1-5 ACC) finally earned a conference victory and prevented their record from dipping below .500 at any point this season.
Not surprisingly, the Irish found themselves in a hole early. Georgia Tech (8-8, 1-5 ACC) got relatively easy buckets from the paint on multiple turnaround hook shots. The resistance was so lax that head coach Mike Brey sent Matt Zona to the scorer’s table less than three minutes into the game. Zona’s early minutes were a function of freshman Ven-Allen Lubin’s lingering ankle injury.
But Notre Dame’s deficit didn’t last long. After getting down 9-2, the Irish clawed back with a Dane Goodwin layup and two Marcus Hammond threes, including a four-point play that tied the game at 11 apiece. And after the early defensive struggles the Irish tightened up on that end of the court for the next few minutes, forcing the Yellowjackets into a 6:32 scoring drought.
At the same time, however, the Irish couldn’t build more than a five-point advantage before Tech nailed a three. What should have been a golden opportunity to build some breathing room was an 8:02-long field goal drought that saw the Irish go 0-6 from the field and 4-8 from the free throw line and commit three turnovers, including two offensive fouls. In the meantime, Tech made three straight three-pointers to close the gap and eventually take a three-point lead.
Nate Laszewski got his first bucket of the game with just over three minutes left in the first half on an and-1 dunk. His ensuing free throw tied the game at 25, but scoring from the field continued to be a struggle for both teams. With three seconds left in the first half, J.J. Starling dribbled through the defense and swished a stop-and-pop three from about 25 feet out to put Notre Dame up 30-29 at the break.
Early in the second stanza the Irish built a three-point lead that forced a Yellowjackets timeout. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Goodwin rolled his ankle while contesting a jump shot and hobbled off the court on his own power, although he would return a couple of minutes later. In his stead Ryan immediately went on a solo 5-0 run that gave the Irish their biggest lead of the night at 41-32, but Tech answered with a 6-0 run of its own.
Back and forth the teams went. Laszewski and Starling each finished layups through fouls while the Yellowjackets converted five baskets, including three from long range, to claim a 51-46 advantage over the Irish. Then Goodwin converted his own and-1 and a jumper and Laszewski followed that up with a three to give Notre Dame the lead once again at 54-51. Then back came Georgia Tech with a 6-0 run to go up 57-54.
Starling did his best to will the Irish back into the game, scoring six of the next eight points as the lead was cut to three. Then Trey Wertz somehow found himself wide open in the right corner and knocked down a three to tie the game as Notre Dame erased a seven-point deficit to tie the game at 65 each with less than a minute remaining.
Georgia Tech called timeout and proceeded to record a shot-clock violation on the next possesion. The Irish got the ball back with 21.7 seconds left and a chance to win. On the ensuing possession Starling got a step on his defender as he drove to the rim but his layup rolled around the rim and out to end regulation with the score tied 65-65.
The Yellowjackets broke the lid on the rim in overtime, scoring the first bucket nearly two minutes into the extra period. Goodwin answered about a minute later with a three to give the Irish a 68-67 lead. Then Tech responded with a three followed by a Wertz three from the wing to restore the one-point lead at 71-70.
On the following play the ’Jackets took a one-point lead on a pair of free throws, and once again the Irish answered in kind as Laszewski knocked down a pair with 23.0 seconds on the clock. Notre Dame got lucky as Tech missed an open three and the ball bounced out of bounds with 3.7 seconds left.
After review the officials gave possession to Georgia Tech, and on a scrambling possession the Yellowjackets missed a rushed midrange jumper. The ball bounced anxiously between potential rebounders but time expired and the Irish escaped with their first ACC win of the season, 73-72.
Notre Dame lost the rebounding battle 38-31, gave up 11 offensive boards and had just 12 assists to 11 turnovers. However, the Irish made four more free throws and one more three than Tech in a game where every point mattered.
Goodwin led all scorers with 19 points and tied for a game-high with 12 rebounds. Starling contributed 16 points off the bench while Laszewski recorded 14 points and seven rebounds.
Notre Dame returns to action Saturday with a road matchup against Syracuse. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST.