Clarke’s flourish lifts Va Tech over reeling Irish 80-75

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Virginia Tech junior Chris Clarke “was as good as he’s been,” and never more than at crunch time.
Clarke scored six straight points in the final 23 seconds as Tech fought off a ferocious charge by Notre Dame for an 80-75 Atlantic Coast Conference road victory Saturday night.
Justin Bibbs led the way with 20 points on 8-of-10 field-goal shooting with four 3-pointers, and Clarke added 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, as the Hokies (15-6, 4-4) backed up their 11-point victory over No. 10 North Carolina earlier in the week.
“I thought Bibbs was extraordinary, Chris was as good as he’s been offensively, and I think Nickeil (Alexander-Walker, who had 11 points) is starting to help us in ways that are not exclusively offensively,” Tech coach Buzz Williams said.
The Hokies, ranked third in the nation in field-goal percentage heading into the game, were crisp with their ball distribution and especially riddled Notre Dame from 3-point range, draining 14 of 25 shots outside the arc, their best effort in an ACC game this season.
“I thought we moved the ball really well,” Williams said. “Nineteen assists on 29 baskets.”
T.J. Gibbs poured in a career-high 27 points for the Irish (13-8, 3-5), who lost a fifth straight game for the first time in nine years.
John Mooney added a career-high 15 points and 11 rebounds. Rex Pflueger also scored 15, while Martinas Geben had all of his 10 in the second half to go with nine rebounds.
Notre Dame trailed 62-47 with 11 minutes to go, but closed to two points on three occasions down the stretch in front of a stoked home crowd.
The last was at 74-72, but Clarke got a tip-in with 23 seconds left, converted both ends of a one-and-one at 16 seconds and, for emphasis, had a breakaway slam dunk to clinch it at seven seconds.
“We emptied the tank. We gave ourselves an opportunity,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “(Tech’s) really a gifted offensive team and they were shooting it great tonight. I’m disappointed, but I’ve got no beef with my guys, man, as long as they keep emptying the tank like that.”
Nikola Djogo missed a 3-pointer at 51 seconds that could’ve given the Irish their first lead since 9-8. Pflueger hit a 3 as the clock ran out.
Virginia Tech: Tech bumped up its NCAA Tournament chances, though it is still January. Per an ESPN BPI index, the Hokies have a 60 percent chance to make the field. If they’d lost, they would’ve been down to 37 percent.
Notre Dame: Once sailing at 13-3 overall, 3-0 in the ACC, with a Maui Invitational title tucked away, the injury-plagued Irish have become a bubble team at best with all their fallen players. Per that same index, they dropped to 44 percent with their latest loss. A win would have elevated them to 71 percent.
The Hokies beat the Irish for the first time since the 1973 NIT championship game, when Bobby Stevens hit a 23-foot jumper at the buzzer for a 92-91 Tech victory.
The Irish had won each of the seven meetings since, and stood 4-0 in matchups as ACC opponents.
Notre Dame star point guard Matt Farrell sat out and will also miss at least Monday’s game at Duke after being diagnosed with a bone bruise to the same ankle that had recently cost him three games.
Farrell returned from the initial injury Jan. 16, but was less than 100 percent in the two contests he played, per Brey.
The Irish also remain without preseason All-American Bonzie Colson, who has missed the last seven games due to a broken foot and is expected to remain sidelined until at least early March.
Freshman D.J. Harvey missed his second straight game with a bone bruise to his left knee.
“The sympathy stuff, we’re way past that,” Brey said of making any excuses.
Notre Dame used its seventh starting lineup in its eight ACC games.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies head to Boston College on Wednesday in another battle of teams scrapping for NCAA Tourney consideration.
Notre Dame: It’s a rapid turnaround for the Irish as they visit No. 4 Duke on Monday, the first of three Saturday/Monday scenarios that each involve travel for ND over four weeks.