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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Irish take No. 7 Virginia to the wire, fall 57-55

There are no moral victories in college basketball, but there is something to be said for what Notre Dame men’s basketball has been doing away from Purcell Pavilion. The Irish have visited 19-plus win teams in three of their last four road games. They lost 85-82 to No. 23 NC State on Jan. 24, fell 68-64 in Duke’s hostile environment last Tuesday and most recently battled No. 7 Virginia to a 57-55 loss Saturday afternoon. Despite having to play through an unexpectedly rotten season, Notre Dame has not shied away from the nastiest challenges. Even as double-digit underdogs, the Irish have taken expectedly stronger opponents to the brink on multiple occasions. Saturday’s game at John Paul Jones Arena was perhaps their best opportunity to rock the ACC with an upset.

From the start, the contest had all the makings of a defensive dogfight. Neither team hit a field goal for nearly the first two minutes, with Irish graduate guard Cormac Ryan finally breaking the ice from deep. Notre Dame took an early 5-4 lead, but a near four-minute shooting drought allowed Virginia to build a four-point lead of their own. The Cavaliers would go on to hold the lead for over 33 of the game’s 40 minutes, making the road test all the more difficult for ND. Offensive production picked up briefly before the under-12 media timeout, as five combined threes went down in just over two minutes of game time. Graduates Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin, Notre Dame’s strongest scorers on the day, contributed the Irish triples.

The visitors trailed 17-15 at the first half’s midway point, but would not come closer before halftime. Notre Dame endured a one-for-nine shooting stretch, with junior forward Matt Zona providing the only offense over a nine-minute span. That stagnation allowed Virginia to expand its lead to nine. The damage could have been worse, but the ‘Hoos battled a pair of multi-minute scoring droughts in conjunction with Notre Dame’s. In the first half’s final two minutes, the Irish finally broke through. Ryan drilled a three-ball, Laszewski scored a quick layup and graduate guard Marcus Hammond earned two just before the buzzer. With that clapback, the Irish trailed 29-25 at halftime. Neither team shot better than 40% from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.

It didn’t take long for Notre Dame to grab the second half lead. Nate Laszewski finished out a 13-2 Irish run by scoring four consecutive points, setting up a 31-29 Irish advantage. Laszewski and Goodwin contributed 13 of 17 Irish points to begin the half, but the Cavaliers answered with a one-two punch of their own. Fifth year forward Jayden Gardner and senior guard Armaan Franklin scored 13 consecutive points, helping Virginia build a 53-45 lead with six minutes remaining. The Irish faced the same scenario at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday, and they remained in the fight once again. Laszewski buried another three, then Goodwin used his signature turnaround jumper to pull the Irish within three. 

Down the stretch, Virginia checked just about all the boxes for giving away a late lead. In the final six minutes, the Cavaliers went one-for-eight from the field. But the Irish failed to capitalize with shot-making of their own. Graduate guard Kihei Clark, who had set UVA’s program for assists earlier in the day, put the Cavaliers up 57-54 at the free throw line, and Notre Dame had its chance to tie in the final 20 seconds. Goodwin missed his three, UVA grabbed the rebound and the Irish were really up against it. But Gardner clanked the front end of his one-and-one trip to the line, keeping ND within three. 

Virginia smartly fouled graduate guard Trey Wertz, allowing him to shoot only two free throws down three. With 3.9 seconds left, he made the first and missed the second. The rebound deflected back to Wertz, who pushed the ball out to the left wing, where Goodwin was left alone. He fired off the game-winning three, but it banged off the heel to seal another excruciating Irish loss.

Both Notre Dame (39.2%) and Virginia (36.5%) shot poorly from the field, as indicated by the final score. They were especially disappointing from distance, entering the game as top three ACC three-point shooting teams but hitting at sub-30 percent clips on Saturday. Nate Laszewski once again paced the Irish with 18 points, also grabbing eight rebounds for the third straight game. The 6-10 forward has now scored 16-plus points in five of his last six games. Dane Goodwin (12) also reached double figures for the 13th time in his last 15 games. On the Virginia side, Kihei Clark led the way with 15 points, knocking down six of eight foul shots.

The Irish now turn their attention to Wednesday’s home clash with North Carolina (16-11, 8-8). America’s preseason number one fell to No. 23 NC State on Sunday and currently sits on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Notre Dame fell 81-64 to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Jan. 7. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and the Notre Dame Radio Network.