Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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46 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL T his one was louder than its opposition from three days ear- lier, permeating into every nook and cranny of Purcell Pavilion as the signal to not foul and let the clock run out came from the visitor's bench. It came from a collec- tion of about 20 students. The cheerleaders didn't need to drum up a quick attempt to drown it out. "We love Brey," trav- eled down from Sec- tion 107 and 108 as final seconds evaporated on Notre Dame's 83-73 win over No. 11 Florida State March 6, the last regular- season game of 2020-21. What a 72-hour rever- sal and a sharp U-turn. Notre Dame finally hit the brakes on the bad momentum that had hi- jacked the stretch run of this season and brought up big-picture questions about the future as Mike Brey wraps up his 21st season in charge. It all boiled over in a couple "Fire Brey" chants after the lethargic 80-69 loss to North Carolina State March 3 — the fourth straight defeat — in which the Fighting Irish led for just 19 seconds and appeared to be playing out the string of a wayward season. In recent weeks, Notre Dame's final regular-season games and the ACC Tournament became a matter of pride. As in, displaying it. Brey doesn't have to remind his team when they get punked. There was, though, reason to question if pride would show up. Shouldn't a 20-point blown lead at Syracuse and allowing 94 points to last-place Boston College have evoked some channeled anger? The unfriendly chant from the North Carolina State defeat appar- ently did. Better now than not at all. "I was antsy, frustrated, complain- ing a lot," fifth-year senior forward Nik Djogo said of his mood after that loss. "As a leader on this team and a guy who prides himself on put- ting the team first, I was embarrassed with how I was treating things. "We've lost a lot of games we shouldn't lose, and we were all pretty pissed about stuff that was going on outside the program." It's not hard to understand what he's referencing. Because it wasn't hard to hear. Djogo, a team captain, took the re- sponsibility to ignite some sparks. "I first sent Coach Brey a text tell- ing him I have his back with every- thing going on and we were going to come out fighting on Saturday," Djogo said. "Then I texted the guys saying the team perfor- mance I gave [against North Carolina State] wasn't something they expect out of me and I'd change the way I approached the game [versus Florida State]. I ended up doing that." Earning the start on Se- nior Day, Djogo backed up his promise right away. First, by sprinting down the floor to free himself for a pass and transition layup attempt that drew a foul. Then, with a back- cut and dunk. Then, he drifted to the corner to stay in junior guard Trey Wertz's passing vision and hit a three-pointer. Following that, he caught a pass in the lane, met 7-2 Seminoles center Tanor Ngom and drew contact. It added up to eight points in the game's first 3:39. With his outburst as the catalyst, Notre Dame kept pour- ing it on and led by as many as 20 in the first half. The Irish led for all but 29 seconds in the game. A somnam- bulant team that looked like it had been stuffed in a straightjacket for two weeks was loose and juiced. "A lot of times this season when we've been down in the dumps, we've said a bunch of things but haven't ac- tually done it on the court," Djogo said. "All the stuff I said [after North Carolina State] wouldn't mean much if we went out and did the same thing." What do those differences look like? A willingness to defend, getting in front on drives and diving for the ball when it was on the floor, for starters. Examples were everywhere. Wertz The Fighting Irish were off and running early against No. 11 Florida State in their regu- lar-season finale March 6, building a 20-point first-half lead en route to an 83-73 victory that snapped a 28-game losing streak against ranked opponents. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS WEIGHT OFF THE SHOULDERS Notre Dame's win over No. 11 Florida State creates some positive momentum at the end of a difficult season

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