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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame drops another late-game conference matchup against Clemson

The Irish are contending for a spot in the cellar of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Notre Dame (13-17, 3-14 ACC) capitalized on free throw attempts and knocked down timely 3-point shots late in the game, but the Irish struggled to generate offense in the closing moments of a nail-biting 64-62 loss to the Clemson Tigers. Notre Dame struggled from the floor — shooting 36.4 percent from the field — including 28 percent from 3-point range in the crushing defeat.

“We’re all a little exhausted,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said after the loss. “It’s been draining, no question about it. … It’s a little bit mentally and physically draining.”

With the Irish down 63-61, junior guard T.J. Gibbs airballed a 3-point attempt, but freshman forward Nate Laszewski hauled in the loose ball. Laszewski attempted to put up a game-tying shot, but he was fouled by Clemson and went to the free-throw line with 3.1 seconds remaining in the game.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish junior forward John Mooney corrals a rebound during Notre Dame‘s 64-62 loss to Clemson on Wednesday at Purcell Pavilion.

Laszewski hit the front end of the one-and-one to pull the Irish within one point of the Tigers. The freshman missed his second free throw, and Clemson collected the rebound. A made free throw by sophomore guard Clyde Trapp gave Clemson the 64-62 victory in the closing seconds of the night.

“It’s definitely frustrating to lose like that, but at the same time, you have to tip your hat to Clemson,” Irish junior forward John Mooney said. Mooney said that closing games and making plays is the priority for the Irish going forward.

Mooney finished the night with 18 points and a career-high 20 rebounds. The junior earned his 13th double-double in conference play this season, tying Tim Duncan for the most double-doubles in ACC play in a season.

“Johnny Mooney’s unbelievable,” Brey said. “He needs three months off when the season’s over. I’ve never seen anything like this, what he’s doing, and [it’s] just too bad we’re not winning to highlight him more.”

The Irish took the opening tip, and freshman guard Prentiss Hubb drilled a mid-range jumper to give Notre Dame the first lead of the game. Brey’s squad held the lead for the first six minutes of the game despite shooting 2 of 12 from the field to open the matchup.

Clemson graduate student guard Marcquise Reed gave the Tigers a 10-9 lead with 13:59 left in the opening frame, and Clemson led by as many as nine in the half.

With 2:47 remaining in the period, Notre Dame trailed 30-23 and was struggling to connect from the floor. Freshman guard Dane Goodwin collected an offensive rebound and put back the layup to cut the deficit to five. After Clemson knocked down a mid-range jumper, the Irish trailed 32-25 with 2:13 remaining in the half.

Goodwin then cut under the basket, hauled in a pass and knocked down an easy layup. After a missed 3-point shot by Clemson, Mooney hit a jump shot to pull the Irish within three points. Clemson failed to convert on the offensive end of the court, and Gibbs drilled a long 3-point shot to knot the game at 32 points apiece going into halftime.

The Tigers and the Irish traded two-point buckets to begin the second half, with neither team able to pull away early in the half. With the Tigers leading 41-37, Clemson graduate student forward David Skara knocked down a layup and drew a foul from Laszewski. Skara failed to convert the free throw, and Goodwin knocked down a 3-pointer to pull the Irish within three points of the Tigers.

The Irish clawed back to tie the game at 49 on a Mooney jump shot, and he claimed the lead for his squad moments later with a 3-pointer. Gibbs connected on a long-range shot of his own to give the Irish a four-point lead late in the game. The Irish failed to hold the lead, and Clemson emerged with the 64-62 victory.

This game is a microcosm of the Irish season, Brey said, because Notre Dame has struggled to close games out over the course of the season.

“That’s kind of been us,” Brey said after the loss. “It’s just hard for us to really get something, someone to really want to make the play or take the shot. We’re just not very confident there, so a one-possession game, and even a tie game with the ball, that’s a big hurdle for this group right now.”

Graduate student guard Liam Nelligan was the lone student-athlete to be recognized on senior night, but the walk-on leaves Purcell Pavilion with a loss in his final regular-season home game. The “old man on campus” made the first start of his career on Wednesday.

“It’s a pretty surreal experience,” Nelligan said. “I grew up a huge Notre Dame basketball fan. … It was really cool and something I’ll never forget.”

Notre Dame will go back on the road to take on Pittsburgh in the regular season finale. The contest matches up the two teams at the bottom of the conference. The Irish and the Panthers (12-18, 2-15) will tip off at noon Saturday.

“If we could beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh, and I know they’re searching too, we would really celebrate that,” Brey said. “It’s going to be a dog fight because we’re both dying and need one.”

The matchup against Pittsburgh will be the final regular-season game before the ACC Championship tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina next week.