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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

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Irish take down Tigers in home finale 69-62

Men's basketball continues win streak as regular season closes

Don’t look now, but Micah Shrewsberry’s Fighting Irish are hot — red hot.

Sure, Notre Dame’s run of five wins in six games has included victories over 8-21 Louisville, and 13-16 Georgia Tech. But for a Notre Dame team (12-17, 7-11 ACC) that was widely picked to finish last in ACC, this recent run of success — culminating in Saturday’s 69-62 victory over Clemson (20-9, 10-8 ACC) — is worth savoring. 

With only two games remaining on their schedule, both on the road, the senior night win provided a potential glimpse of what’s to come for Shrewsberry’s largely young squad.

“Everybody that showed up, we are going to play the same exact way [when] you show up for us next year,” the first-year Irish head coach said postgame. “Know that we’re not going backwards. It’s only going forward from here.”

Despite the important growth of Notre Dame’s youth — the freshmen recorded 40 of Notre Dame’s 69 points — there was still senior night magic. With Purcell Pavilion at the loudest its been all season, Matt Zona, Notre Dame’s only regularly playing senior, stepped into the spotlight. 

Zona, a 6’9 forward from Blauvet, NY, is one of just three seniors on the Irish roster. Despite his limited play time this season, Zona has been a quiet leader for the Irish and was named the team’s captain prior to Saturday’s game. Playing a season-high 28 minutes Saturday night, Zona was right in the middle of two of the game’s most important moments.

Late in the first half, he drained a three to give Notre Dame their first lead of the night at 29-26. Shrewsberry, fired up on the Notre Dame bench, called timeout shortly after, allowing Zona time to hear the appreciative Purcell crowd. Zona would do it again the second half, dropping another three from the corner to put the Irish ahead with 8:23 remaining.

“It is a lot of fun. We are playing really good basketball right now,” Zona said postgame. “I’m a firm believer that you want to leave a place better than you found it, and me doing something or not doing something, I think this place is in a really good spot.”

As Notre Dame’s season winding to a conclusion, that much is clear. The Irish are clearly in the best position they’ve been this season. Despite having their three-game win streak snapped at Syracuse a week ago, Notre Dame has now responded well to two teams ahead of them in Wake Forest and Clemson. 

It wasn’t clear from the start Saturday that Notre Dame would continue their strong play, though. Clemson took an early 5-0 lead, and kept a 4 or 5 point cushion between themselves and the Irish for much of the first half. 

Freshman forward Carey Booth tied the score at 17 apiece 9:30 into the contest, but Notre Dame wouldn’t take a lead against the Tigers until Zona’s first three at 4:10. Clemson was able to respond to the deficit, and led 34-31 at the end of the first half. 

Booth, who was 3-6 from behind the arc and scored 11 points on the night, gave Notre Dame their first lead of the second half (37-36) just under two minutes in. Then, sophomore guard Tae Davis turned it on, scoring 18 points over the course of the second half including a monster two-handed dunk with 7:21 remaining.

With the game coming down to the wire and the Irish ahead by four, freshman guard Braeden Shrewsberry converted a three with two feet on the monogram at mid-court, electrifying Purcell Pavilion. Shrewberry’s gutsy three-ball gave Notre Dame a 64-57 lead, their largest of the evening, and the juice to close out the 69-62 win. 

The entirety of the game, Notre Dame only led for 10:22, most of that time coming late. The Irish shot 5-11 from behind the arc in the second half to propel themselves to victory. Once again, hometown freshman guard Markus Burton led the way for the Irish. Burton put up 21 points and six rebounds, both team highs. The Irish as a whole shot 42% from the field, although they were outscored in the paint 32-18.

Notre Dame rounds out the first regular season of the Micah Shrewsberry era this week, with road trips to No. 9 North Carolina on Tuesday (7 p.m. tip, ACCN) and Virginia Tech on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ESPNU). The ACC Conference tournament looms afterward, beginning March 12.

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