Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Opportunity Knocks for Irish

February 14, 2020
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It’s the equivalent of going from bumper-cars to the drag strip.

Notre Dame, after consecutive slugfests at Clemson and Virginia, revs its offensive pace Saturday at No. 7 Duke (4 p.m., ESPN) in a contest that goes a long way in sustaining or bludgeoning the Fighting Irish’s precarious NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Blue Devils (21-3, 11-2) are tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference and third nationally in scoring at 82.3 points per game; Notre Dame (15-9, 6-7) average 75.1 ppg and own 12 games of scoring 78 or more points.

“They’re 41st in tempo, Duke, really running and scoring and playing fast,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We want to score, we want to play faster. I’ve talked about the 20-second shot-clock practices; we actually scrimmaged with a 20-second shot-clock because I think when we’re running and moving and scoring, that’s a great flow for us. And then try and change defenses.

“We tried to get a feel for that (Thursday), a little more today.”

Perhaps just as important as its ability to reach top-gear, Notre Dame also needs to ratchet up its offensive efficiency from behind the arc and pick its moments to dictate pace --- be that how it brings the ball up-court or its ability to find some run-out passing opportunities.

“For us, we kind of knew we were going to walk some things up and be efficient in our half-court sets,” Brey said of the Irish’s first two legs of this three-game road trip at Clemson and Virginia. “I figured, ‘We’re going to get Wednesday to get our legs under us.’ I didn’t think fatigue or anything, just what gives us the best chance.

“We did get a couple of easy buckets in the second half off turnovers; (the Cavaliers) had 13 turnovers and that took a little pressure off of us. Clemson and Virginia are similar styles; as ugly as they both were, we made 10 3s Sunday night. We only made six (at Virginia), and we had good looks. To beat good teams, we’ve got to get closer to double-digit 3s.”

The Irish on the season are averaging 9.83 3-pointers per game; it’s 9.53 in ACC play.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

The Irish are 1-1 midway through what Brey has termed the most difficult stretch in the history of Irish basketball, after splitting road games at Clemson (win) and Virginia (loss) and with Saturday’s trip to Duke preceding Monday’s return home against North Carolina.

Brey, however, is shifting into terming the game at Cameron Indoor as a chance for Notre Dame to play toward March Madness.

“Again, the energy in that building, it’s a different animal,” said Brey, noting the Irish’s sophomore trio of Dane Goodwin, Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski are all making their first trips to Duke’s notoriously raucous home. “But what a great opportunity. Last year, Syracuse got in the NCAA Tournament and they had 13 losses. They got in because they won in Cameron. That was the game that got them over the hump. So that’s the opportunity.

“We’re searching for those Quad 1, quality ones. We’re kind of hovering, but you need some big scalps to move the needle for us down the stretch.”

Brey praised his team’s locked-in approach.

“I love that they have complete ownership of themselves,” he said. “Our captains have done a great job setting the tone this month. They want it, they play the right way, they understand what’s on the line, they’re really coachable.

“It’s a fun group to be around every day because they’re really focused on trying to make a run to the NCAA Tournament.”

WINDY CITY WINDMILL?

Brey isn’t sure what former Irish star Pat Connaughton might have lined up Saturday night’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest in Chicago as part of the League’s All-Star Weekend.

But Brey is confident in the ability of the Irish’s all-time leader in career games to deliver on the dunk stage.

“You know what, man, I cannot wait to see what drama he comes up with,” Brey said. “It’s going to be dramatic and it’s going to be a show. We all know the man can get up, but what does he do with the choreography of this whole thing. I know my man’s got something up his sleeve.

“Certainly I’m thrilled for him; he’s just been an unbelievable story. He’ll put on a show, that’s Connaughton.”

Connaughton is competing in the event Saturday night alongside Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, the Lakers’ Dwight Howard and Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. Howard is a previous Dunk Contest winner; Gordon and Lewis both own previous second-place finishes. Connaughton is the only first-timer in the event.

 
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