Yet picking up an Atlantic Coast Conference victory in the middle of a global health crisis remains anything but easy when only seven scholarship players are dressed for action.
Senior guard Kameron McGusty, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark on Tuesday, scored a game-high 20 points, but his veteran leadership was not enough as Notre Dame guard Prentiss Hubb posted 19 points, forwards Nate Laszewski and Juwan Durham combined for 32, and Miami (6-8, 2-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) fell to Notre Dame (5-8, 2-5 ACC) on Sunday night at the Watsco Center, 73-59.
The Canes, without senior guard Chris Lykes (ankle), freshman guard Earl Timberlake (shoulder), and sophomore forward Anthony Walker (bruised heel), were reduced to seven scholarship players. Larrañaga’s program forged a 13-3 scoring run amidst the middle of the second half, but the Fighting Irish had an 8-2 burst of their own in the final four minutes, as forward Nate Laszewski’s stellar field goal percentage (.641) remained on full display.
“We did a very good job of putting some full-court pressure on them, but it was hard to get it set up after that initial burst,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said. “Guys started to get fatigued and we couldn’t sustain the effort through the end. They were able to get a breakaway layup or dunk, but the press was effective for a three- or four-minute period.”
Miami only shot 1-for-11 from distance in the first half, a scene quite familiar to the injury-plagued Canes this winter. The team only converted on two more on the remainder of the contest, going 3-for-22 from the 3-point arc.
“We understand our situation, we have a bunch of people hurt right now,” said redshirt junior forward Deng Gak. “Our main focus is just coming out of the game and playing hard, which I think we do a good job of, but we do have some holes in our game like 3-point shooting, which is due to injuries.”
The Fighting Irish had recently defeated Boston College, a team that recently ran Miami off the court. Notre Dame had also endured their third seven-day layoff as a result of COVID-19 implications around the conference, though it remained clear throughout Sunday’s 40 minutes that the visitors from South Bend, Ind., were sharper.
“We’ve learned this throughout the season, we just can’t guard 3-point shooters very well,” said Larrañaga on Notre Dame’s 10 triples, with multiple coming from Hubb to both close and open the two halves. “Notre Dame shoots a lot of threes, they shot 56 percent from three, and [we] wish we could figure out how to get this team to defend the 3-point shot better. And then at the other end of the floor, we shoot 14 percent from three, we don’t make any threes. The combination is lethal.”
Miami, however, applied full-court pressure to spur a 13-3 run, which reduced their opponent’s lead to nine.
“It was our full-court pressure,” Larrañaga said. “Deng Gak did a really good job on the ball; we got a couple of stops and [that] led to layups and open shots. I thought that got Isaiah Wong going and he was able to generate some points in the open court. Kam McGusty, I thought played very well offensively, he had 20 points, but we need more guys to score the ball.”
To close the night, the Irish did not turn to Hubb or Howard for once, but instead decided to involve Laszewski in order to keep the Canes guessing. The ACC’s best field goal shooter iced the matchup with nine of the final 11 Notre Dame points, which pushed the Irish to an 8-2 run towards the end.
“We’re in a situation that we probably could’ve used a positive COVID test to help us [recover from injuries], so that we could regroup, get our guys healthy, and get them practicing and playing well,” Larrañaga said. “That hasn’t been the situation, we’re now 6-8, and we’ve got a rough road ahead. There’s no looking back, we’ve got to look forward, and try to improve; it’s gonna take a team effort.”
With their second consecutive conference loss, the Canes turn the page to Florida State, one of the favorites not only to repeat as ACC Tournament champions, but to advance far in the NCAA Tournament this spring. The Noles recently defeated No. 20 Clemson by 19 points on Saturday, and are arguably more talented this year than last.
The Hurricanes and Seminoles will tip off at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee, Fla., and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.