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Notre Dame Basketball

Luck of the Irish? Notre Dame hopes to keep season alive in ACC

March 8, 2021

First, Mike Brey admits he is in sales mode as his Notre Dame basketball team prepares for its opening-round game Tuesday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

Secondly, Brey says he's pulling out any and all talismans – voodoo dolls, anyone? – as the No. 11-seed Fighting Irish (10-14, 7-11) face No. 14 Wake Forest (6-15, 3-15) try to launch an improbable jaunt to keep alive their season. Tip is 7 p.m. inside Greensboro Coliseum. ACC Network has all games until Thursday's quarterfinals round.

“We've been better in this tournament than we were in the Big East,” Brey said Monday during a Zoom with reporters. “Probably the make-up of our group, the guys we've had, and then it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Hopefully we can recapture a little bit of that juice. I'm certainly selling that, and Saturday's performance helps me sell it better. There's a little bit of an uptick after a big downtick.”

The performance Brey references is the Irish's most recent outing, a wire-to-wire win against then-No. 11 Florida State that brought an end to Notre Dame's more than three-year skid against ranked foes.

Now the key is duplicating arguably the Irish's only performance this year featuring an urgent approach from the opening tip, contributions throughout the lineup and, noteworthy, a late-game resolve not present in myriad other contests this season.

Perhaps further buoying Notre Dame is its earlier performance this season against first-year coach Steve Forbes' Demon Deacons. The Irish led by as many as 28 in that game, uncorked an 19-0 scoring sprint and outrebounded Wake, 44-31.

Too, they got 18 points, nine boards and four blocked shots from senior post Juwan Durham.

“Actually we watched some scouting video (Monday) afternoon, I had a bunch of clips of the Florida State game,” Brey said. “You know, how we rebounded physically. How we handled pressure, which we hadn't done very well to date. And our movement offensively. I thought they needed to see themselves, to remind them what they did. So we come in feeling good.

“Now, Wake Forest, they have 10 athletic guys, they're going to shoot the heck out of the ball. Certainly they have nothing to lose. They're kind of home, here, on home base. We've got to expect a hard game. We're here in a better frame of mind than we've been for a while.”

The better frame of mind is a key mental element for the Irish, who were in the process of their season's best stretch – winning four of five games – during the first meeting with Wake.

“Your self-esteem is tied to winning and losing in this,” Brey said. “We had lost four in a row, had a horrible performance on Wednesday and a lot of that is N.C. State-driven. They are playing really well and kind of took our spirit.

“Having said that, that you feel yourself play well, feel yourself play well against a good team, you know what helped us Saturday, it was the first time we had people cheering for us in the building. We did our job to play well, so they would cheer for us. It actually felt like a home atmosphere, and I thought that picked our kids up.

“You're trying to ride off some momentum that we found something Saturday.”

For Brey, that also includes riding the same starting five: All-ACC third-team guard Prentiss Hubb, Durham, Nate Laszewski, Nik Djogo and Trey Wertz. Dane Goodwin and Cormac Ryan are the bench spark-plugs on the heels of their combined 26-point effort in the upset against the Noles.

If Notre Dame can win, it advances to face No. 6-seed North Carolina Wednesday night at 9 (ACC Network).

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