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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame comes up short against No. 13 North Carolina to fall to 1-3 in ACC play

On Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., Notre Dame hung tough with No. 13 North Carolina, but ultimately fell short as the Tar Heels took the game 75-69. The loss marked the first time since 2013 that Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3) has lost three of its opening four conference games.

Early on in the night, the Irish looked a bit overwhelmed, as the Dean Smith Center was loud and packed with students having returned to campus. But things would steady as Notre Dame began to find some more consistent shooting as the first half went on, and after a couple of clutch threes to close the half, the Irish held a 36-33 lead.

In the second half, both teams went back and forth, and while the Irish continued to keep it close thanks to some timely shots, North Carolina (13-4, 3-1) began to make its presence felt on the glass. On the night, the Tar Heels won the rebound battle 47-38 and found some much needed points down the stretch. With about five minutes to go in the game, North Carolina went on an 8-0 run in about 90 seconds to take a commanding lead — one it would not give up, despite a push by Notre Dame in the final minutes.

Despite the loss, the Irish saw strong performances out of a number of players on the night, among those being freshman point guard Prentiss Hubb, sophomore wing D.J. Harvey and junior forward John Mooney, who all scored in double figures. Mooney additionally added a career-high 19 rebounds on the night to record his conference-leading ninth double-double.

Coming into his team’s matchup with the Tar Heels, Irish head coach Mike Brey commented on the strong stretch Mooney has put together this season, as the 6-foot-9 forward is averaging a career-best this season with 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds.

“He is the same guy every day. He is really mature and was a freshman, knows who he is. He’s committed. He deserves it for how he’s invested with us his first two seasons … if you watched through the summer, you would say it should come. He’s been even better than I thought,” Brey said.

Connery McFadden | The Observer
Irish junior forward John Mooney dunks the ball during Notre Dame's 67-56 win over Duquesne on Nov. 20 at Purcell Pavilion.

Over winter break, the Irish were still busy on the court as they played seven games and got underway with their ACC schedule. On December 15, Notre Dame traveled to Indianapolis where they took on Purdue in the Crossroads Classic, and led by Mooney, who had 21 points on the day, was able to walk away with the 88-80 win. The Irish grabbed the early advantage over the Boilermakers (11-6, 4-2 Big Ten) and never saw it slip away from them, especially when they hit 12-of-14 free throws down the stretch to secure the victory. Three days later, the Irish topped Binghamton, 69-56, to improve to 8-3 on the season. It was the big men that got things done for Notre Dame against the Bearcats (5-12, 1-1 American East), as junior Juwan Durham posted 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Mooney finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Two days later on December 20, Notre Dame once again handled business at home when they took on Jacksonville. The offense was clicking all game, especially from deep as the Irish hit 18 three-pointers en route to a 100-74 win. It was only the fourth time in program history that Notre Dame has hit 100 points, and the offense was spread out, as four players put up more than 15 points in the game — Harvey, freshman guard Dane Goodwin, junior guard T.J. Gibbs and Mooney. After a break for the holidays, Notre Dame got back on the court December 29, when it took on a then-winless Coppin State, and despite a shaky start, the Irish prevailed 63-56 to extend their win streak to four games, as Gibbs led the Irish on the offensive end with 15 points.

On New Year’s Day, conference play began for Notre Dame, and with it came an end to the Irish win streak, as they were downed by No. 9 Virginia Tech 81-66. It was the first game on the road for the Irish in a while, and while Mike Brey’s team hung tough into the second half, the Hokies (14-2, 3-1) proved to be too much as they responded to every run the Irish made. Later in the week, Notre Dame fell again, this time to Syracuse, 72-62. Again, the Irish tried to keep things close and were successful for a while, but the Orange (12-5, 3-1) pulled away down the stretch to drop the Irish to 0-2 in ACC play. In the game, Notre Dame suffered another loss as senior captain Rex Pfleuger, who posted a career-high 10 assists, went down with a season-ending torn ACL.

This past Saturday, Notre Dame finally got its first conference victory, winning in the final seconds against Boston College, 69-66. Despite only having six scholarship players available, the Irish held on for the win as Mooney had another big night, putting up a career-high 27 points, and Hubb hit critical free throws down the stretch.

Looking ahead, Notre Dame’s schedule does not get any easier, as the Irish close out the month with games against No. 17 North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, No. 4 Virginia and No. 1 Duke. The Irish will take on the Wolfpack inside Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, with tip-off at 2 p.m.