Notre Dame (9-5, 3-1) has now won six of its past seven, managing victory Saturday without the sharp-shooting acumen that has defined coach Mike Brey’s best teams with the Irish. Reliant on the 3-pointer, Notre Dame made seven of 23 3-point tries (30.4%) after having cleared 40% in its previous four games. Still, Tech was worse at 6-for-27 (22.2%), its second-lowest rate of the season.
Pastner returned to that facet of the game repeatedly during his post-game news conference. With center Rodney Howard out with an ankle injury, Pastner turned to forward Jordan Meka to start for the third consecutive game with forward Saba Gigiberia backing up. Meka did not score in 18 minutes and did not re-enter the game after being taken out with 15:10 left in the second half. Gigiberia played two minutes.
Having a small lineup means being more vulnerable on defense, particularly in the interior, and has to be compensated for on offense with a strong 3-point game. It didn’t happen. The three Jackets players who took the most 3-point tries, Usher and guards Michael Devoe and Deebo Coleman, were a combined 4-for-18. One or two more makes could have meant a win.
“We’re going to have to score some from the perimeter,” Pastner said. “I thought we had some real good looks from the 3, from good guys, really good shooters. They just didn’t fall. When that happens, it just makes it tough.”
The Jackets missed four 3-pointers when they went on another second-half scoring drought exceeding four minutes, their sixth in the past seven games. During that stretch, from the 16:43 mark to the 12:03 mark, Tech went from holding a 41-35 lead to falling behind 46-41.
Notre Dame was off the mark from 3-point range, but, against the Jackets’ small lineup, made up for it inside the arc. The Irish took a season-high 43 two-point shots and made 24. Forward Paul Atkinson was particularly effective exploiting lapses in coverage to slip to the basket off screens for easy scores. He had 16 on 8-for-9 shooting.
“Paul got us, and kind of by surprise,” Usher said. “We knew he was an under-the-rim-type big and can hit a pump fake and do the little stuff. We just have to give a better effort, I guess, and cut him out of the game.”
Tech was 38.8% from the field overall (26-for-67) and turned the ball over 14 times to Notre Dame’s 12.
“I think it’s real frustrating,” Usher said. “I’m going to be critical of myself. I had five turners, and as a fifth-year player, that’s not acceptable at all.”
Tied at 62-62 after regulation, the Jackets fell behind 70-64 with 1:49 to play on a Nate Laszewski 3-pointer and were unable to escape that deficit.
In the final eight minutes of regulation, neither team led by more than four points. Tech had a chance to take the lead on its final possession, when Coleman went to the line for two free throws with 28.6 seconds remaining and the Jackets down 62-61.
Coleman made the first to tie but missed the second, giving Notre Dame a chance to win in the final seconds. However, Irish guard Prentiss Hubb missed a jumper over a strong challenge by Tech forward Khalid Moore, and then after Atkinson took the rebound, Moore knocked it out of his hands as time ran out.
Entering the game, Pastner had hoped to build off the more encouraging elements of the Jackets’ 96-57 loss at No. 2 Duke on Tuesday. Pastner said it was the best the team had played this season in terms of effort and focus for an entire game.
Tech showed it at the start, taking a lead as large as eight points in the first half. After using only eight players against Duke, Pastner had used 10 before halftime, including guard Tristan Maxwell, who had played in one game this season thus far. The Jackets went into halftime on a surge, moving their lead from 26-24 to 35-29, finished off with a 3-pointer by guard Kyle Sturdivant in the final seconds of the half.
Tech was led again by Devoe, who scored a team-high 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting with six rebounds and three assists against four turnovers.
“We’ve played a tough schedule, and maybe I’m just a guy that looks at the glass as overflowing, but I really believe we’re close to getting on a run,” Pastner said. “I know it doesn’t count for anything, but we’re close. We’ve just got to get over the hump.”