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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Irish face do-or-die situation against No. 7 Seminoles

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team is set to show down against the No. 7-ranked Florida State, coming to town for the penultimate game of the regular season.

The Irish (18-11, 9-9 ACC) are currently on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams but were making their way into contention for a spot as a bubble team behind a three-game winning streak. Now, coming off of a back-breaking loss to Wake Forest on the road, the odds are stacked against head coach Mike Brey’s team.

The Irish would be guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance if they were to win the ACC Tournament in Greensboro next week, but that would be a tall task with them having to win four games in four days as the best-case scenario. However, hope lives on, as the Seminoles (24-5, 14-4 ACC) could provide the Irish with a marquee win to give their tournament resume the desperate boost it needs.

Irish graduate student guard Rex Pflueger looks to pass during Notre Dame's 80-72 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 1 at home.
Irish graduate student guard Rex Pflueger looks to pass during Notre Dame's 80-72 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 1 at home.

Notre Dame nearly upset then-No. 5 Florida State on the road Jan. 25 After jumping out to a 15-4 lead, the hosts stormed back and took a large lead, before the Irish made another run of their own that came up just short in the final minutes. Timely defensive plays by graduate student guard Rex Pflueger and clutch baskets, including one coming on an inbounds steal, by senior forward Juwan Durham were for naught as Notre Dame fell 85-84, nearly handing FSU what would have been its only home loss of the season.

The ending of the game was somewhat controversial based on questionable foul and no-calls, including a technical foul on Notre Dame’s bench for protesting a Pflueger travel. As such, Brey was slapped with a $20,000 fine by the ACC after he publicly criticized official John Gaffney in a post-game press conference that lasted less than a minute before Brey stormed out.

Florida State holds the all-time advantage over Notre Dame, winning six of the 10 contests between the two schools, but the Irish are 3-0 at home against the Seminoles.

While Notre Dame comes in having lost to Wake Forest (13-15, 6-12 ACC), FSU also comes in on a low after losing 70-69 at Clemson. The Seminoles are undefeated at home on the season at 15-0, but they have struggled on the road, staying just above .500 at 6-5 with losses to the Tigers(15-13, 9-9 ACC), Blue Devils, Cavaliers, Panthers and Hoosiers.

In terms of how they have fared against these shared opponents, the Irish bested the Tigers 61-57, lost to the Blue Devils (24-6, 14-5 ACC) by 34, lost to the Cavaliers (21-7, 13-5 ACC) by one in overtime, beat the Panthers (15-15, 6-13 ACC) 80-72 and lost to the Hoosiers (18-11, 8-10 Big Ten) 62-60.

Despite the loss to the Demon Deacons, senior forward John Mooney had another standout game for the Irish, collecting 24 points and 17 rebounds en route to his 24th double-double of the season, good for first in the nation. He currently has 15 double-doubles in ACC play, tied with former Wake Forest standout Tim Duncan for the best single-season total.

Wednesday night’s game against Florida State is of such importance that team captains Mooney, Pflueger and senior guard T.J. Gibbs wrote a special Sports Authority for The Observer, imploring fans to show out to the game and cheer on their team while their backs are against the wall.

Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion, and the game will air on ESPN2.