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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame’s ACC tournament run ends after Marvin Bagley III, Duke cruise to victory

For Notre Dame, the playing is over.

And now the waiting begins.

Three games in three nights was a tall order for a Notre Dame team that has asked a lot from its role players in the absence of senior forward Bonzie Colson. More effort, more shots and more minutes.

On Thursday night, those minutes looked like they caught up with Mike Brey’s squad, as the Irish (20-14, 8-10 ACC) dropped their ACC quarterfinal matchup with Duke, 88-70.

“They’re an explosive offensive unit, and tonight, we had no answers,” Brey said after the game. “Overall, I liked our offensive rhythm, but we couldn’t get enough stops.”

Sarah Olson | The Observer
Irish senior forward Bonzie Colson stares down Panthers junior forward Jared Wilson-Frame and looks to make a move during Notre Dame’s 73-56 win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 28 at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish had no answer for Duke forward and ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley III, as the freshman went over, around and through the Irish to the tune of 33 points and 17 rebounds.

With the loss, Notre Dame’s run in the ACC tournament is over, and the Irish will wait to hear their postseason fate on Selection Sunday.

“We’re prepared to go wherever they send us,” Brey said. “When you lose seven in a row and you’re under .500, you’re talking and dreaming about a run to get to the bubble, which I’m very proud that we did. But you’re also talking very realistically with our seniors. If it’s the NIT, we’d be honored and let’s come back to [Madison Square Garden]. I’m just glad that we get to keep playing with this group.”

Even Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski voiced his support for Notre Dame.

“I hope they get in, because I think they can beat anybody,” Krzyzewski said. “If Mike [Brey] had that team together the whole year, forget it.”

The Irish and Blue Devils (26-6, 13-5) met once in late January, with Duke beating an injury-riddled Notre Dame team by a score of 88-66. Thursday night’s ACC quarterfinal matchup didn’t end up being much different, despite Colson and senior guard Matt Farrell being in the lineup.

Early on, the Irish looked to have solved the offensive problems that plagued them in the second half against Pittsburgh and the first half against Virginia Tech. The Irish hit a handful of 3s early and stayed neck-and-neck with the Blue Devils for the game’s first few minutes.

The only problem: Duke’s offense was clicking as well. Senior guard Grayson Allen made five 3-point shots in the first half, and by the halfway point in the opening period, Duke pushed the lead out to 10.

The Irish angled back into the game on a 10-1 run thanks to some strong passing that led to layups. Even four missed free throws from sophomore forward John Mooney and Colson wasn’t enough to prevent the Irish from battling back, which in large part was due to a markedly improved rebounding effort with Duke freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. sidelined with three fouls.

Down as many 13, the Irish clawed back to just a four-point halftime deficit at 41-37, despite Duke shooting 7-of-13 from 3-point range.

“I told our guys, ‘We’re in a lot better position than the night before,’” Brey said of the halftime score. “But it’s a different animal out there tonight when they’re in an offensive rhythm like that.”

The Blue Devils wasted no time in pushing the lead back to double digits in the first four minutes of the second half thanks to a couple of Irish turnovers.

Down 12 to 15 points for most of the half, the Irish looked for someone to provide an offensive spark.

But no one was able to step up. Farrell went 4-for-13 from the field and was largely a non-factor in the game. Sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs and junior guard Rex Pflueger combined for only 14 points, and the Irish shot just 5-of-23 from beyond the arc in the game. Brey said his team’s poor shooting stemmed from the effectiveness of Duke’s zone defense.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils did not lack for offensive firepower, as Bagley scored 33 points and Allen finished the night with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

Bagley’s offense kept the Blue Devils firmly in the lead, and Notre Dame didn’t have another comeback effort in it.

“Bagley was just the first pick in the draft. He made a couple and I said to myself, ‘He’s really good,’” Brey said of Bagley. “He’s a can’t-miss star just watching him tonight.”

Now, the Irish will have to sit and wait until Sunday to hear if two ACC tournament wins is enough to earn an NCAA bid.

“Myself and the captains and the seniors, we stayed together through it all,” Colson said. “We continued to give confidence to the rest of the players that we could be special. We know we’re going to play somewhere, [and] we’re excited about it. We think we gave the committee a heck of a run on what we can do.”

The NCAA selection show will begin Sunday at 6 p.m. on TBS.