Asked Saturday afternoon how to avoid the mental pitfalls of facing a press and for letting a frustrating loss spiral, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey put the responsibility on his players.
“It’s on their ass to figure out how to bounce back,” Brey said after Notre Dame’s 75-67 loss at Syracuse, which in all likelihood closed off a path to an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
He did, though, have a suggestion to his leaders. Before boarding team charter to head home from Central New York, he pulled aside two of the team captains, junior point guard Prentiss Hubb and graduate senior wing Nik Djogo. If Brey ever wants to get a message through, he starts there.
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“They have the pipeline to the group the best,” Brey said.
As for what he told them?
“I want this one to sting like Georgia Tech did for 48 hours.”
In a game much like Saturday’s deflation inside the Carrier Dome, Notre Dame went to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech Feb. 7 and pounced on an unsuspecting host. The Irish hung a 50-spot in the first half and held a 15-point lead at the break. Similarly, they led 46-32 at Syracuse. Nearly everything went right. Nearly everything went in the hoop. In vanquishing the Orange’s 2-3 zone for 20 minutes, Notre Dame had 15 assists on 18 field goals against two turnovers.
But in the same manner in which it fell apart two weeks prior – an 82-80 loss – Notre Dame’s offense devolved into a mess of turnovers, stilted offense and gotta-have-it open shots that drew rim. In the second half of both games, Notre Dame had more turnovers than assists, a vexing pivot from an all-upperclassman rotation that should be past ball security issues.
Each time, the opponent’s desperation switch to a press and trap-heavy defense put the Irish offense in a headlock and fueled a comeback. Brey brought the comparison up not to light into his team about repeat mistakes, but to highlight the response.
Not 72 hours later, Notre Dame rolled into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off Duke, 93-89. Staring at an 0-2 road trip and a game they weren’t favored to win, the Irish came back from an early 15-point hole to notch their win over a top-75 KenPom team.
“We had our hearts broken at Georgia Tech in a similar fashion as we did Saturday in the Carrier Dome,” Brey said. “Then we had the toughness to bounce back at Duke and scratch one out. We’ve done this before.”
The immediate path following Saturday is the same. Notre Dame (9-11, 6-8 ACC) plays Tuesday night at Louisville (7 p.m. ET, ACCN), a brawny, athletic team likely headed to the NCAA tournament with potential ACC Player of the Year Carlik Jones. The Irish are underdogs, even though Louisville just suffered a 45-point loss at North Carolina Saturday in its first game back from a 20-day COVID-19 pause.
Fetching a win over the Cardinals (11-5, 6-4), KenPom’s No. 52 team, will require a similar response to Georgia Tech’s surprise attack. It will also presumably require some improvement against pressure. Louisville will heat up the ball at times.
Working in Notre Dame’s favor, though, is Louisville lack of scoring explosiveness. The Cardinals are 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency in conference games. They’re shooting 30.4 percent on three-pointers, which ranks 299th nationally, and rarely take them. At North Carolina, they mustered just 54 points. And despite their athleticism and pressure, they force turnovers on a meager 17.4 percent of possessions (271st).
Like the trip to Duke, it’s a game Notre Dame is not expected to win but has figured out how to before.
“Can we do the same thing?” Brey said. “I had the guys out to the house [Sunday]. We practice a little bit, stretched out and I had them out to the house. Let’s keep plugging, man.”
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Notre Dame (9-11, 6-8 ACC) at Louisville (11-5, 6-4)
When: Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Ky.
TV: ACC Network
Radio: Notre Dame basketball radio network
Line: Louisville -3.5
KenPom prediction: Louisville 72, Notre Dame 69
Last meeting: Louisville won 67-64 on Jan. 11, 2020 in South Bend
Series history: Louisville leads 26-15
• Jones, a grad transfer from Radford, makes Louisville go on both ends. He’s third in the ACC in scoring, at 17.1 points per game, fourth in assists (4.5 per game) and second in minutes (36.8 per game). He averages 1.5 steals and is shooting 41 percent from the field and 84 percent from the foul line. He’s a 29.8 percent three-point shooter on 3.1 attempts per game.
In conference games, no one in the ACC takes a higher percentage of his team’s shots than Jones’ 27.9. On the season, he draws nearly five fouls per 40 minutes and ranks top-150 nationally among more than 2,100 qualified players in assist rate.
• Despite a 3-for-12 shooting day and three second-half turnovers, Hubb still posted 10 assists at Syracuse. He leads the ACC with 6.1 assists per game and has handed out at least eight of them in seven of the last nine games.
• Irish leading scorer Nate Laszewski (15.0 ppg) is on pace to become the first major-conference player since 1996-96 to shoot 60 percent from the field, 50 percent on threes and average at least 7.5 rebounds per game. He had a career-high 12 rebounds at Syracuse.
• Notre Dame is 13th nationally in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
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