NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame overcame a sluggish start to down Georgia Tech 65-62 Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. The win snapped a two-game Irish losing skid and gave head coach Mike Brey his 300th victory at Notre Dame.
“It means a lot,” Brey said of reaching the milestone. “To be at a place as long as I’ve been and have the support that I’ve had coaching the kind of kids that I get here (with) a fan base that’s been amazingly supportive – of course we’ve been pretty darn good too – it means a lot.”
Brey now sports a record of 300-156 in his 14 seasons as Fighting Irish head coach.
The Irish (15-14, 6-10 ACC) and Yellow Jackets (13-15, 4-11) started the game playing at the pace of a snail crawling through molasses. Georgia Tech was just 8 for 22 overall from the field to start the game, but a 4 of 6 clip from behind the 3-point line helped them to a 15-4 run to take a 22-11 lead. Notre Dame started just 2 of 7 from the field.
The Irish missed their first seven 3-pointers before Eric Atkins knocked one down with 1:53 to play in the half to pull the Irish to within a point of the Yellow Jackets. Atkins’ shot was the first jumper of any kind the Irish hit. His floater in the lane gave ND a 30-29 lead – their first lead of the game since an early 4-2 advantage. ND led 33-31 at halftime.
“What helped us was we changed defenses and played some zone and that got us some transition stuff,” Brey said of the swing of momentum that saw the Irish outscore GT 22-9 over the last 7:40 to close the half.
Garrick Sherman was the only consistent offense the Irish had in the first half. The 6’11 center had 11 points at halftime and finished with a game-high 21 points. He didn’t see the double teams in the post early in the game that he has become accustomed to playing against.
“He’s really key for us being able to score it down there,” said Brey. “And lately he’s been much better with the ball when making decisions of kicking it out.”
Sherman had gone four straight games without scoring in double figures. His last previous double digit game was 17 points on Feb. 8 against North Carolina. His 21 points is his best game since a 21-point effort against Florida State back on Jan. 21. Sherman’s efforts and the bevy of layups helped ND outscore Georgia Tech 42-16 in the paint.
Notre Dame used a 7-2 run early in the second half to go up 42-35. The Irish pushed the lead to nine points, but Chris Bolden soon got the Yellow Jackets back in the game with a barrage of three 3-pointers, including two on back-to-back possessions to cut the Irish lead to 53-50 with 9:53 to play. They closed to within a point before a Sherman layup ended a four minute drought without a basket.
A Connaughton layup followed by a 3 from Atkins, who scored 17 points thanks to 4 of 7 shooting on 3-pointers, with 2:16 left gave the Irish a surge to lead by seven, but consecutive treys by Robert Carter sliced the Irish advantage to just 63-62 with 1:05 on the clock. After a pair of Connaughton free throws with 23.8 seconds left, Carter put up two 3s in the final nine seconds for the chance to tie, but they both missed as the Irish held on for the win.
Connaughton was just 3 for 11 from the floor, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range, but he stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, eight rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes.
“He was a rock,” Brey said of Connaughton. “You can’t take him out. He’s got to be in there to finish the game.”
The Irish held Georgia Tech leading scorer Trae Golden (13.1 ppg) scoreless. The 6’2 senior was 0 for 10 overall and 0 for 5 from 3-point range. Carter was the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer with 10 points.
Notre Dame hosts Pittsburgh Saturday at 2 p.m. ET in the final home game of the regular season.