Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Brey Notebook: Wake Forest

February 7, 2017
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The last 72 hours haven’t been great for the Notre Dame basketball team, but Mike Brey saw his team push through mental hurdles to pull out a gritty 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday night. Notre Dame played a tough game in Greensboro against a physical North Carolina team and then made thee quick turnaround for Wake Forest.

“The last three days – we used a lot of juice in Greensboro,” Brey stated. “I actually thought when we went down 13 in Greensboro that I might pull the guys out and play the Blue team. I would have had four guys mug me in the huddle, but it went through my mind.

“This game was coming fast and we didn’t do much yesterday. We’re worn out and we need a blow tomorrow.”

The schedule and lack of time to rest caught up the Irish and VJ Beachem was still feeling the effect of Sunday’s game prior to the game on Tuesday.

“It has been very demanding,” said Brey. “We got in yesterday and we were going through a slow shooting drill and VJ is cringing. Even today he said he was a little tight. I tried to steal them some time in the first half, but it has ben grueling.

“The intensity of the game in North Carolina was unbelievable physically and mentally. We fought through some stuff with some mental toughness. Those four need some time to get their legs back.”

With the ACC not moving the Wake Forest game back a day, the Irish will now get one more day of rest before hosting No. 14 Florida State.  

“It does help,” Brey said of an extra day of rest. “Now that you won, I love it. I’ll sit back, put my feet up and watch Florida State. We feel we have a chance and we feel we can beat them. We played the heck out of them down there.

“I’m thrilled to be 7-5.”  

Scoring
During the four-game losing streak, Notre Dame’s offensive struggled to score the basketball, so Brey made a decision to go small to start the game the last two games. That decision paid off as the Irish scored 52 points in the second half on Tuesday.

“What you saw in the second half against North Carolina with the smaller lineup, Rex or TJ, I don’t know how many minutes we played two big guys, maybe four,” stated Brey. “It was going to have to be that kind of game where we can really spread it.

“Five out with a smaller lineup with Rex or TJ helps the four most important guys on my team. The Big Four are really helped by that and it’s evident in their numbers.”

Brey knows he can’t play small the entire game and he has to pick his spots when he goes big.

“We have to rotate Martinas (Geben) and (Austin) Torres in there, but when you have a Rex and TJ in there you can play small,” Brey stated. “We did give up 17 offensive rebounds, but we were efficient enough on offense to get away from them.”  

One-Game Win Streak
Brey has a popular saying of being on a one-game winning streak and that’s just what the Irish needed after a tough two-week stretch.

“It’s huge,” Brey said of the win. “It’s great for us. We needed some rest and it’s great to take a day off after a win. It’s not so great taking a day off if we would have lost and were 6-6 in the league.

“7-5 is a lot different than 6-6. Hopefully, that can give us some confidence and get us moving again. I fully expected to have some tough stretches in this league. Hopefully, we are playing our way out of it.”  

Loose
The program knew that after losing four games in a row that they couldn’t afford to drop a home game to Wake Forest. Brey made sure to act loose on Tuesday to take pressure off his team.

“I was trying to be loose today,” said Brey. “I knew how bad they wanted it and they knew how bad we need it. I thought we played uptight. We didn’t get any loose balls. The second half we started playing and we got into a rhythm and started scoring.

“I haven’t shot the half-court shot at the end of shoot-around for a while, so I was firing up half-court shots. I missed about three or four. I was kidding with guys and it couldn’t be ‘Oh my God, we have to have this.’ They know we had to have it.”
However, Brey admitted he wasn’t exactly as loose as he came across as to his team.  

“I was totally stressed out,” laughed Brey. “I was tied up in knots inside, but I faked it like a son of a gun. I just tried to keep them loose because they wanted it bad.”

Young Big Guys
With Brey moving to small ball, it almost certainly limits the playing time of Elijah Burns and John Mooney. However, Brey is making sure he keeps both of them up in spirit while they aren’t finding the court.

“They are both coming along and they are both really good with the ball,” explained Brey. “They are good ball handlers and they can face the bucket and make decisions with the ball. They are both 240 and 250 pounds and can go in and pound a little bit to give you a physical force.

“I think they are on their way. This is really tough. I am trying to periodically pull them aside to let them know they are making progress and we see it.”

Both players could play, but Brey isn’t rushing them on the floor as offensive points are at a premium in league play, but also he wants his Big Four to have the best chance to be successful.

“It’s learning how we play on the offensive end. It’s about learning how we move, cut and space,” stated Brey. “I think they are way ahead of a lot of other young big guys because when they face the bucket with the ball in their hands they know what to do with it. Mooney can make a three.”

There is always a thought of transferring after not seeing the floor consistently, but all Mooney and Burns have to do is look across the locker room to see how patience has paid off.

“They have a really bright future and it’s up to me to make sure I hold on to them,” Brey explained. “They love it here. The one thing they’ve seen continually is the locker room. Everyone of those guys has been in their position. Waiting, wondering and they hung in and it’s worked out pretty good.”

Junkyard Dog
With 27 points, 16 boards and five blocks on Tuesday, Bonzie Colson’s nickname was being tossed around the locker room post game.

“When he plays in his ‘Junkyard Dog’ mode, he’s a double-double machine,” said Brey. “Scratching stuff out and getting his hands on stuff. Everyone goes at him because he’s a 6-foot-5 guy with skinny calves, but they forget about his 7-foot-2 wingspan. He gets more tricky blocks than anyone.”
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