CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey thought coming into the season his team had the experience and savvy to contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
That's finally starting to happen.
Rex Pflueger had 18 points, and John Mooney had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Notre Dame continued its surge as it won its fourth straight with a 61-57 victory over Clemson on Sunday night.
The Fighting Irish (15-8, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference), who start four seniors, rallied from seven-points down in the second half — a testament to the toughness Brey believes his players are showing in this stretch.
"This is an older group. I was waiting for them in December and early January to show the mettle they've had in these last seven games," Brey said. “We do have very good senior leadership."
Especially when Pflueger and Mooney play like this. The two combined for seven of Notre Dame's 10 3-pointers, many of them at crucial times.
Mooney converted a four-point play with the game tied at 43 that put the Fighting Irish ahead for the first time in the second half.
Then when Clemson (11-12, 5-8) had cut things to 54-52, Pflueger struck with a straight-away 3-pointer.
The Tigers could not respond.
Pfleuger, a graduate student, said he and his teammates never panicked as Clemson moved in front. “We weren't sharing the ball very well in the beginning," Pflueger said. “We've been in these situations before this season. We've got a very mature team.”
With the game tied at 50, T.J. Gibbs put Notre Dame ahead for good with floater in the lane with 3:44 to go. Pflueger increased the lead with a bucket the next time down and then clinched things with a 3-pointer with 1:07 to play as the Fighting Irish went ahead 57-52.
Mooney, the ACC's rebounding leader, had his 19th double-double this season.
Clemson freshman Alex Hemenway scored seven straight points to tie it a final time before the Fighting Irish took control.
Hemenway had a career-high 16 points. Tevin Mack also had 16 to lead the Tigers.
Clemson played without leading scorer Aamir Simms who missed the game due to the flu.
Tigers coach Brad Brownell said his team guarded Notre Dame as well as it can, holding the ACC's second-leading offense at 76 points a game to its fewest points in league games this year.
“We don't make enough shots," Brownell said. “It's been hard for us at times. We get some decent shots, but we've got to knock them in."
The Tigers are 13th in the ACC in points per game (66.1 average).
Clemson, which had scored only scored 44 points in each of two losses, continued to struggle at the start as it made just three of its opening 14 shots to fall behind the Fighting Irish 14-7 midway through the opening period.
But the Tigers found some offense on the outside from Hemenway and on the inside from Mack.
Hemenway had a pair of 3-pointers during Clemson's 13-5 surge, the second put his team up for the first first time, 20-19.
Mack closed the half with a pair of foul shots and layup and, after Notre Dame's Dane Goodwin made two free throws, Hemenway found 7-foot sophomore Trey Jemison for a short jumper that put the Tigers up 29-27 at the break.
Notre Dame missed six of its final eight shots in the first half.
THE BIG PICTURE
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish continue their late push to make a mark on the ACC. Mooney and Pflueger are a strong 1-2 duo who combined to make seven of Notre Dame's 10 3-pointers.
Clemson: The Tigers once again settled for long 3-pointers too often, making just 9 of 34 from behind the arc. They missed 3 of 4 shots after cutting Notre Dame's lead to 54-52.
Notre Dame's Brey acknowledged Clemson's offense took a hit without leading scorer Aamir Simms. “But lets be honest, nobody's going to feel sorry for you in this league," he said.
Alex Hemenway is making the most of his opportunity to play for Clemson. The freshman didn't get in for 16 straight games, but has played the past five games and gone 8-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc.
Notre Dame goes to defending national champion Virginia on Tuesday night.
Clemson plays at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. ___
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