Notre Dame looks to make push for NCAA Tournament

The Irish are in a better position to make the tourney after a key road victory against Miami.

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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says Dane Goodwin (23) is “one of the best players in the league.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says Dane Goodwin (23) is “one of the best players in the league.”

Robert Franklin/AP

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski all but called it. 

After his ninth-ranked Blue Devils held Dane Goodwin scoreless in 33 minutes Monday, the retiring legend shared his combination of disbelief and admiration for Notre Dame’s leading scorer. 

“We were lucky, I guess,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 57-43 road win. “He’s so good. When I looked at the box score, I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He’s one of the best players in the league.”

Two nights after putting up his first goose egg in 87 games, dating to his freshman year, Goodwin hit maybe the biggest shot of his career: a game-clinching three-pointer late in Wednesday’s 68-64 road win over ACC-leading Miami. 

A pair of 10-0 runs in the second half spelled the difference in just the second Quad-1 win for Notre Dame (15-7). Along with a mid-December upset of Kentucky, the Irish now have a little more ammunition to move themselves off the NCAA Tournament bubble and into the projected field of 68. 

“Getting these road wins, especially against one of the top teams in our conference, it just makes our résumé that much better,” said senior guard Prentiss Hubb, who hit two late three-pointers. “We’re a veteran group. We know how to stay level-headed and weather the storm.”

In a rare down year for the ACC, four NCAA bids might be the maximum. The Irish, 8-3 against league foes and in a three-way tie for second place, were running out of chances to offset ugly road losses against Boston College and Virginia Tech (combined 8-15 in the league).

That’s why coach Mike Brey used the term “ultimate bounce-back challenge” in addressing his team before the flight south. 

“Let’s be honest,” Brey said. “You had to get one of these two [Miami and Duke] to keep your momentum going for this bracket, and we did. We did it the hard way. We’re back in the mix.”

Goodwin’s 14-point response on 6-for-10 shooting might have been expected, but suddenly the Irish have to worry about Blake Wesley’s shooting slump. The talented hometown freshman pretty much had his way with opponents before this recent four-game downturn. 

Starting with the home game against N.C. State on Jan. 26, Wesley shot a dreadful 10-for-55 (.182) from the field, including 3-for-23 (.130) from three-point range. The 6-5 slasher was able to mask those woes by going 16-for-23 from the foul line against the Wolfpack and Virginia, but Duke and Miami limited Wesley to just three combined free-throw attempts in his last two outings. 

Without singling out Wesley, Brey spoke after the Duke loss about how some of his players let the moment get the best of them. There might have been an intimidation factor as well, with the 185-pound Wesley giving up 30-plus pounds to Duke defenders such as Wendell Moore Jr. and Trevor Keels. 

“We’ve had Kentucky come through here, we’ve had [North] Carolina come through here with bodies,” Brey said after the Duke loss. “Ain’t nobody got bodies like these guys.” 

Fortunately, Hubb has been there to take up the slack as Notre Dame has gone 3-1 during Wesley’s skid. With trips to Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State still ahead for the Irish, getting Wesley right will be essential if Notre Dame is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. 

Nights like Wednesday in Miami give Brey added belief in his 22nd season. 

“For them to deliver like they did, I think there’s some special stuff about the group,” he said. “It’s an older group that is pretty focused on what they want to do. They were disappointed in how they performed Monday. That’s leadership. This group has ownership of itself.”

In five weeks, Brey will find out on Selection Sunday if his gut instinct about this team was correct.

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