It’s truly fitting that this year's core of Notre Dame men’s basketball graduates, the ones composing Mike Brey’s most heralded recruiting class back in 2018, finish with the same number of conference wins in their final season as they did in their first. Three total wins in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one for each of the three members of that class — Robby Carmody, Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski — still on the Irish roster.
Notre Dame (11-20, 3-17 ACC) fell to Clemson (22-9, 14-6 ACC) 87-64 in Brey’s final regular season game as Irish head coach. For a team and program that has seemingly invented new ways to lose in heartbreaking fashion, Notre Dame’s losses this season have generally followed one of three narratives: (A) get down big early and eliminate all belief in a comeback, (B) hang around long enough to instill false hope, and (C) lead late and then choke it away. This game followed Narrative A.
The Irish gave up two threes in the first minute of the game and were trailing 8-2 at the first dead ball: a timeout by Brey to try and stop the bleeding. It didn’t work. The Tigers came back out and went on a 14-1 run to take a 20-3 lead.
Two free throws by Matt Zona provided only a brief reprieve. More hot shooting by Clemson and Notre Dame burned its second timeout while trailing 31-12 with 7:40 left in the first half. The Irish started hitting some three-pointers, but the Tigers never stopped.
By the time Notre Dame’s offense had finally woken up, Clemson’s offense had already gone for a morning jog, gulped down a hearty breakfast, gotten the kid’s ready for school and engaged in a robust conversation with coworkers about the upcoming episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
That’s how the Tigers were up 48-29 at the half, led by Hunter Tyson with a first-half double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Cormac Ryan led Notre Dame with 10 points but was 0-5 from long range in the opening period as the Irish were a collective 10-32 (31%) from the field and 4-15 (27%) from deep. Clemson was 17-30 (57%) and 8-15 (53%) from the field and from three, respectively.
The second half was a bit more entertaining from the jump than the first half. Both teams traded buckets from long range — combining for five triples in the first four minutes of the stanza — but the Irish couldn’t make any headway. They trailed 59-37 by the first media timeout, although they at least managed to play Clemson to a draw through the next media break thanks to five more points from Zona, trailing 69-47.
The rest of the game played out pretty much the same. There were two saving graces for Notre Dame. One was that the perpetually-injured Carmody — who failed to register a point on senior night against Pitt — made 1-2 free throws to get on the scoring sheet for the first time since his sophomore season. The other was that Zona recorded a career-high 10 points to go along with five rebounds and 2-3 shooting from deep.
Ryan led all scorers with 19 points while Lazewski chipped in 12 points and nine rebounds. Besides those two and Zona, no other Irish players scored in more than nine points, while all five Clemson starters were in double figures.
The Irish return to action on Tuesday, Mar. 7 at 7:00 p.m. to take on Virginia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The winner advances to face N.C. State on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.