Notre Dame Kicks Off Road Trip With Grind-It-Out Victory
Notre Dame (15-8 / 6-6) kicked off a three-game road trip with a 61-57 grind-it-out victory over Clemson (11-12 / 5-8).
It wasn’t always pretty, but it doesn’t take away from how crucial this victory was for Notre Dame. The Irish have been hot on offense during its current winning streak, but that would not be the case against the Tigers. Going on the road and grinding out a victory when not on top of their game is crucial to building a NCAA Tournament resume.
Notre Dame’s veterans have played a major role in the win streak, and that was no different tonight. Senior forward John Mooney scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but guard Rex Pflueger carried the offense in the victory, scoring a season-high 18 points on just eight shots.
Mooney broke a 43-43 second half tie by hitting a corner three and drawing a foul, finishing the play off with a made free throw. Clemson would not be phased, again tying the game at 50-50 with just over four minutes to play.
This is where things have gone wrong for Notre Dame so many times this season. Get a lead, look like victory is in your grasp only to fade late, but that would not happen tonight.
Senior guard TJ Gibbs broke the tie with a step back jumper just inside the free throw line. After a Clemson turnover, Pflueger hit a baseline jumper to extend the lead.
With the Irish up 54-52 with just over a minute to play, Pflueger confidently stroked a deep three from the right corner to extend the lead to five. He fouled out on the next possession, and the Clemson free throws made it a 57-54 game.
The Tigers put on a full court press, but sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb was able to escape to half court before finding Mooney for a cross court pass, but Mooney immediately dished the ball to a cutting Nate Laszewski for a layup that all but iced the game.
Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead, as the seniors combined for the first 25 points of the game. Pflueger hit his first triple of the game, but the Irish offense went ice cold over the next 10 minutes, making just three baskets, allowing Clemson to claw ahead 23-22 with just over three minutes left in the opening half.
Pflueger hit back-to-back threes to put the Irish back on top, but the lead would not last as Notre Dame missed its final three shots of the half. Notre Dame committed six turnovers in the first half, which combined with poor shooting to put the Irish behind 29-27 going into the break.
Clemson jumped out to a 7-point lead early in the second half, but Pflueger knocked down a pair of free throws and Gibbs hit a three to keep the Tigers from pulling away. After another cold streak, a Mooney triple put the Irish ahead.
The two teams traded leads until Mooney’s four-point play. After that the Tigers would tie it once but Notre Dame would not trail again for the remainder of the game.
Gibbs and Mooney had been carrying the offense the last ten games, with Gibbs averaging 17.5 points per game during that stretch. He scored only 10 against Clemson, but the shots he did make came at crucial moments in the game.
Pflueger's 18 points proved vital, and it was the second time in three games the veteran captain has reached double digits after doing so just three times the previous 19 games.
The Irish bench struggled in the game, scoring just six points on 2-13 shooting, and Notre Dame committed 11 turnovers, but the Irish were stingy on defense and held Clemson to just 20-56 from the floor and 9-34 from deep.
Notre Dame travels to Virginia for a Tuesday night matchup against the defending champs. A road win over the Cavaliers would tie Notre Dame for fourth in the ACC.