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Notre Dame Basketball

With fond memories, Notre Dame returns to Greensboro

March 11, 2020

Five times already in their Notre Dame basketball careers, seniors T.J. Gibbs, John Mooney and Rex Pflueger have been a part of postseason victories in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

And five years ago this week, the Fighting Irish claimed their first and thus far only ACC postseason crown for coach Mike Brey.

Thus, there’s confidence for both this team’s close to the 2019-20 regular season --- transforming a 2-6 start in league play into an 10-10, sixth-place-tie finish --- and its program pedigree as the Fighting Irish face Boston College tonight at 7 in their ACC Tournament opener.

“I think the biggest thing is our confidence, making sure we’re going in there and playing Notre Dame basketball,” said the senior Gibbs, who spurred the Irish into postseason play with 22 points in last Saturday’s senior day win against Virginia Tech. “As Rex said, the culture here and none of the guys on this team were on that winning team in 2015, but the culture that’s set is that we can tell you every single that was on that team. We interacted with those guys each and every day. When you have a personal relationship, it means that much more.

“We know that we’re playing for something bigger, it’s more than just our team. It’s also the culture of this program and it means a lot to all of us. We’re not just going to let that sit and just go away. We’re going to try to make some noise there.”

The Irish are playing for something bigger than an extra day in Greensboro as well. Sitting 19-12 overall, they project into the National Invitation Tournament but arguably can play their way into NCAA Tournament bubble residency if they can sustain a run this week.

So, one win might guarantee two more games; two wins could bring Notre Dame even closer to a return to March Madness for the first time since 2017.

“The last time Notre Dame was in Greensboro, we won the whole thing,” said Pflueger, who emotionally thanked the Purcell Pavilion crowd following the team’s last win. “And obviously, we weren’t a part of that team but we’re part of that culture. Coach Brey knows all about that, Coach (Rod) Balanis knows all about that.

“So when we go down there, we’re just going to have to listen to their lead. And we’re doing the best from our standpoint to help lead from a team perspective.”

Brey praises the team’s leadership --- particularly from its trio of senior captains --- as key to a season that, while not a full turnaround, could easily have dissolved into meltdown. The Irish lost Robby Carmody to a season-ending injury before league play for the second consecutive season, and they lost an inordinate number of tightly contested games; eight of their 12 losses are by just 17 total points, including seven league defeats by 15.

The Eagles (13-18, 7-13 ACC) and Irish enter this game after splitting their two regular-season tilts with just three points’ separation.

“The thing I talked about, I didn’t talk about Greensboro, didn’t talk about our record in the league,” Brey said. “When (the seniors) speak and express themselves, it’s really what our program and our mission and our university is all about. …

“I like our team, like our group.”

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