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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

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Irish continue rise from the ashes to advance in ACC Tournament

Notre Dame men’s basketball downs Georgia Tech 84-80 to start postseason play

WASHINGTON — Late at night on Ash Wednesday, amidst a sparse Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame rallied to beat Georgia Tech by 3. Since then, Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team has gone 4-3, a stark improvement from its 1-9 stretch in January and February. It just keeps getting better, though; Tuesday might have been one the team’s most impressive showings yet. Notre Dame narrowly came out on top in an 84-80 game at Capital One Arena, advancing to face Wake Forest in round two of the tournament.

After falling to Notre Dame twice during the regular season, the Yellow Jackets knew how to stop the Irish — or at least they thought they did. Notre Dame came out playing a very different type of basketball, going all-in on the 3. For the game, the Irish shot 12 of 23 (52.2%) from behind the arc — easily the team’s best 3-point shooting performance this year.

Notre Dame needed that, though. The team came out fast in the first half, scoring 45 before the break against Tech’s 35. 

In the first half, the game looked like a blowout — a statement win to begin the tournament. In the early minutes of the second half, the same held. Notre Dame extended its lead to as many as 17. That very quickly changed.

After the under-12 media timeout, Notre Dame started getting sloppy. In the second half, the Irish committed 10 turnovers; on the other hand, Georgia Tech committed three — two of which came in the game’s last few possessions. Georgia Tech simultaneously started driving better and making its jumpers. GT shot 50% in the second half.

Notre Dame also struggled mightily against Georgia Tech’s full-court press, which it used after making baskets. For the most part, Notre Dame hasn’t had a problem breaking presses this year, but on Tuesday, even inbounding the ball looked like quite the struggle. Freshman guards Braeden Shrewsberry and Markus Burton ran the baseline when possible — although that strategy didn’t always play out.

In the lane, Notre Dame had back luck. The Irish actually won the rebound battle, but due to unlucky positioning and some unfortunate tips, Georgia Tech gave a lot of trouble to freshman forward Carey Booth and sophomore forward Kebba Njie, both of whom ended the day with negative net points.

After the Irish collapse, it was anyone’s game. The Yellow Jackets briefly took the lead. The following possession, the Irish were able to quickly advance the ball in transition. Burton took it to the lane. Notre Dame led by 1. 

On the ensuing possession, a Georgia Tech throwaway gave the ball back to the Irish. Burton ate most of the clock and headed to the rim as the shot clock ran out. He missed. Sophomore forward Tae Davis came down with the rebound and went right back up. He was fouled on his way up and went to the line to shoot two.

Davis made both of his free throws, but in an extremely rare call — especially at the collegiate level — the officials determined that Njie stepped into the lane early, negating Davis’ second make. Notre Dame now led by 2.

From there, Georgia Tech threw the ball away again. Shrewsberry ended up with the ball and was subsequently fouled. He went to the line and made both, giving the Irish a 4-point lead. 

Georgia Tech ran out of fuel from there. With five seconds left, the Yellow Jackets missed their shot, and Dame survived another day. 

Did the Irish deserve to lose? Possibly. Teams that play in any postseason tournament — whether it be the NCAA, NIT or even the CBI — don’t blow leads like that in such a short time.

At the same time, Notre Dame had a legendary shooting performance. On the year, the Irish shot 31.3% from beyond the arc, good for 310th in NCAA Division 1. Teams have to be commended when they beat their average by 20 percentage points. And Notre Dame did just that.

Shrewsberry led the way for the Irish with 23 points off of 5 for 8 3-point shooting. Burton contributed 21 points and eight assists. Njie led the way down low with nine rebounds and 9 for 10 shooting from the charity stripe. 

Notre Dame head coach Micah Shrewsberry was proud of his players, especially of how they overcame adversity late in the game.

“I don’t think anything has come easy for us this whole season,” he said. “I felt like at the end of the day, when it’s time to get a stop, this is the group that can do it. That’s what we did that last possession.”

Notre Dame now heads to the hotel to quickly decompress and recover. The Irish will see Wake Forest on Wednesday on less than 22 hours of rest. In the teams’ first meeting, Notre Dame won 70-65 off of Burton’s 31-point masterpiece

Wake Forest will bring everything they have, though. The team’s NCAA Tournament status is in jeopardy. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Wake is currently in the First Four Out. He predicts that the Demon Deacons will need to beat Notre Dame to stay in tournament contention.

In the postgame press conference, Micah Shrewsberry was complimentary of Wake Forest’s team, especially their roster.

“When you have three guards that can all score it, but you have two good big guys, they kind of put you in a bind a little bit,” he said. “We’ve got to get back and start preparing and figure out what we need to do to have success against them.”

With Tuesday’s win, the Irish already find themselves in a better position than at the end of last season when they lost in the first round to Virginia Tech. For Micah Shrewsberry, the man continues his dominance in conference tournaments. He went 5-2 at Penn State, now bringing his conference tournament record to 6-2.

For Micah Shrewsberry, the biggest takeaway for the Irish is the opportunity to grow as a young team — to play another game.

“But what excites me is we get a chance to play again tomorrow. That’s really exciting. I would hate to be on the bus right now going home,” the coach said.

Notre Dame and Wake Forest will tip off at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Capital One Arena.