With one week remaining in the regular season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish find themselves with a 17-12 record overall and a 7-9 mark within the ACC. By the time the upcoming week has concluded, that latter mark should be at 8-10, which would likely make them the 10th seed for the upcoming conference tournament.
The costly loss to Miami last Monday killed any chance of moving up among the single-digit seeds, yet Irish head coach Mike Brey is banking on the hoped-for return of Bonzie Colson to ignite his squad during the pivotal ACC tourney. A few wins there may be enough to squeeze Notre Dame into March Madness, though the Irish mindset is focused on the NCAA’s more than the NIT, the latter of which barely constitutes a consolation prize.
Notre Dame Basketball’s Week in Review
Losing to the Hurricanes made Saturday’s road clash against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons full of drama for Notre Dame, thanks to the must-win circumstances of the contest. The Irish certainly lived up to the theatrical side of things by capturing the 76-71 victory in the closing seconds to send the home crowd away disappointed.
Early on, Notre Dame had shooting issues, missing seven of their first ten shots from the field and twice falling behind by five points. Without the early contributions of Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs, that hole might have been deeper since the duo scored the first 15 points by the Irish.
Over the remainder of the half, it was Martinas Geben that was the offensive focal point. The big man scored in 12 of the team’s final 21 points of the half, with the Irish heading to intermission trailing 41-36. Geben was the lone Notre Dame player who could find the basket during the opening 20 minutes: he was six-of-eight from the field, with everyone else combining for shooting percentage of 28 percent on 5-of-18.
An 11-2 run in the early moments the second half gave the Irish only their second lead of the game, though they trailed 69-60 with eight minutes left in the contest. During that remaining time, they began by running off 11 unanswered points to lead by two with 3:19 to play. Wake then connected on a pair of free throws to quickly knot the score, but then both teams struggled to score until Farrell drilled a three-pointer with eight seconds left. That was followed by a Geben steal and two free throws to close things out.
Notre Dame Standouts of the Week
Besides that clinching steal, Geben collected another double-double and put forth another strong performance by finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds, six of the latter coming off the offensive glass. His scoring punch in conference action has seen him reach double-figures in each of the last six games and 13 of the team’s 16 ACC contests.
Delivering in the clutch allowed Farrell to finish the Demon Deacons game with 21 points, while also contributing six rebounds and a pair of assists. That last three-pointer was his fourth of the game, marking the sixth time in the seven games since he returned from his ankle injury that he’s hit for at least that many long-range bombs.
Scoring 20 points and adding three assists and two boards, Gibbs paced the Irish at the foul line, connecting on all seven of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Notre Dame Basketball’s Week Ahead
The Irish regular season concludes with an exercise in extremes. That’s because Notre Dame takes on the Pittsburgh Panthers, who have gone 0-17 in ACC play this year, and the Virginia Cavaliers, who remain the top-ranked team in the country. The fact that the Panthers game will take place in South Bend and the Cavaliers game in Charlottesville offers a pretty clear window into how these games will likely turn out.
Each of the four games that the Irish and Panthers have played under the conference banner have been close ones, including two overtime contests. Last year, Notre Dame eked out a one-point win on the road, but hasn’t defeated Pitt in South Bend since 2011. When it comes to Virginia, the Cavaliers hold a commanding 10-2 advantage in the series, though the Irish won their last meeting, which took place in the 2017 ACC tournament.