RALEIGH, N.C. — Down 12 points in the second half and without its leading scorer and rebounder, North Carolina State raised its intensity on defense and its aggression on the boards and used 27 points by Markell Johnson and 16 by D.J. Funderburk to post a 73-68 win over Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
By all rights, the Wolfpack (11-4, 2-2 ACC) should have been finished. Notre Dame (10-5, 1-3) shot 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half and made five layups in the opening five minutes of the second half.
Irish point guard Prentiss Hubb was on his way to a career-high 24 points, and a Notre Dame team that led the nation in fewest fouls per game didn’t send the Wolfpack to the free-throw line at all in the first half.
But the Wolfpack switched guard Devon Daniels onto Hubb, and Funderburk began to assert himself in the lane.
“D.J. was tremendous in his activity,” said N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts. “He was flying all over the place, and he kept a lot of balls live.”
Funderburk scored 12 of his 16 points and grabbed all five of his offensive rebounds in the second half as the Irish struggled to finish defensive possessions. Eleven of N.C. State’s 16 offensive rebounds came after halftime. Over a period of almost five minutes, Funderburk muscled his way inside for eight points to help the Wolfpack turn a 58-49 deficit into a 60-60 tie with 5:27 to play.
The Irish managed just 10 points over the last 10 minutes after scoring 58 in the first 30 minutes. And N.C. State shot 17 free throws in the second half, making 13.
“The only thing that was really different was energy,” Funderburk said. “...Those rebounds led to extra points, and some of those other rebounds led to our momentum change and the atmosphere change.”
Funderburk broke a 66-66 tie with a pair of free throws with 1:38 remaining, giving N.C. State its first lead since the fourth minute of the game. An errant pass by Hubb resulted in a turnover on Notre Dame’s next possession, and Johnson drove for a layup with 53 seconds remaining for a four-point lead.
With leading scorer C.J. Bryce missing his third straight game with a concussion, Johnson provided a steadying influence for the Wolfpack. Just four days earlier, he shot 1-for-6 from 3-point range in an 81-70 loss at Clemson.
He rebounded to tie his career high for points, handed out a game-high seven assists and shot 9-for-15 from the field.
“Whether it’s with C.J. or without C.J., it’s important for us to win, no matter what,” Johnson said.
Notre Dame also was missing a starter as Rex Pflueger was out with a knee injury. The Irish played just six players, but still appeared to be on their way to a second straight ACC road win after defeating Syracuse on Saturday.
Then Funderburk began asserting himself on the boards.
“We couldn’t get a rebound, and their physicality really hurt us in the second half,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “And Johnson’s such a killer. I’m disappointed for us, because I thought we played well enough to escape, but when you give up second shots like that it’s going to be hard.”
Notre Dame: Consecutive solid performances in ACC road games will breathe some life into a season that wasn’t looking particularly promising a week ago. If Hubb can continue scoring at the clip he has provided over the past two games, the Irish have enough pieces around him to be competitive in most of their ACC games.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack urgently needs Bryce to return to the lineup. He is averaging 16.1 points per game, and his absence leaves Johnson as N.C. State’s only truly dynamic scorer. And with a difficult road test at Virginia Tech coming up, falling to 2-3 in ACC play wouldn’t be palatable for a team with NCAA Tournament hopes.
It was a rough evening for N.C. State reserve Pat Andree. His father, Tim, played basketball at Notre Dame, and Pat’s mother, Laureen, was on the Notre Dame women’s swim team. Pat Andree shot 0-for-6 from the field, all on 3-point attempts, and did not score...Notre Dame entered the game leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.96, with 263 assists and 134 turnovers on the season. But the Irish committed 14 turnovers and had just 11 assists on Wednesday.
Notre Dame: Plays host to No. 13 Louisville on Saturday.
N.C. State: Visits Virginia Tech on Saturday.