Irish look to wake up vs. Demon Deacons

Notre Dame enters today's first round Athletic Coast Conference Tournament game as losers of two straight, with a sub-.500 record -- and confident.

Pat the Stat

Longtime South Bend Tribune scribe Tom Noie dubbed Irish junior swingman Pat Connaughton as such after the latter rattled off a plethora of statistics regarding Notre Dame's oh-so-close -- but rarely enough -- efforts in conference play.

Connuaghton's notable examples ("When we out-rebound an opponent, we're 9-3. When we don't turn the ball over a given number of times, we're 6-1) came from his head coach.

The message from Mike Brey to his embattled troops: You're close. Very close.

"One of the stats I told them, we talked a lot about our field goal percentage defense," said Brey. "In league play we gave up 46 (percent). With just three more stops, 46 goes down to about 40 (percent). I wanted them to see it's not monumental (not) 10 stops. Just three stops brings that percentage down.

"For us to win a game in the ACC Tournament, that end of the floor has got to be better for us."

If the Irish are to defend better Wednesday vs. Wake Forest (the Demon Deacons shot 56 percent in the second half en route to a 65-58 win in late January), it will likely start with one-and-done possessions.

Protecting the glass is paramount.

"When we out-rebound an opponent, our record is a whole lot better than when we get out-rebounded," Connaughton offered. "Defense is always key. When we play good defense we seem to spark our offense, we can get out and run a little bit, change tempo, do all those things this program has been known for doing, and it all starts on the defensive end."

That's been the case at times over the last seven games, a stretch in which Notre Dame won three, lost four, but played well -- in spurts, sometimes extended spurts -- vs. six of the seven foes.

"There's been very few games this season where we've been blown out," Connaughton noted when told the team was "playing well" despite a pair of end-season losses to Pittsburgh (overtime) and North Carolina (a potential game-tying layup was blocked at the buzzer). "That says something about this team and about our resiliency. We need to not only play that basketball we've been playing over the last few games, but to get over the hump by getting a few more 'whatevers': box outs, rebounds, defensive stops…

"There was a statistic coach gave us where if we just got three more stops over the course of (close) games, we'd have been *12-3. It's a matter of doing those little things, focusing on those, and we'll come out with a good week in Greensboro."

(*It was a given for those that covered the Irish that both games vs. Virginia and a home loss to North Carolina were not included in this total.)

The Irish haven't played since losing to North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 63-61, on March 3. The break was crucial for Connaughton who gutted his way through the contest with a severely sprained ankle. The junior captain played 37 minutes, scoring 17 points and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds.

"It was good to get our energy back, try to collectively take our breath as a team and figure out how we're going to go about this ACC Tournament," said Connaughton. "A mentality that we have to go in with. It's all or nothing. Nothing to lose."

And according to Brey, gains are apparent and have begun in earnest.

Sherman noted Sunday he's learned to play with a chipped pinkie finger

"The last seven games (beginning with a 68-64 OT win over Clemson) since we've kind of adjusted how we've run our offense -- more patterned, more predictable -- our shooting percentage is up, our three-point percentage is up, our assist-to-turnover is better, our scoring is up.

"We could always use a surprise scorer, someone that could come in and give us 8, 9, double figures. But the focus is, if you're going to stay awhile at Greensboro, you're going to have to defend and rebound better."

A lot better.

"It's about all of us putting it together for 40 minutes," Connaughton noted. "We've put it together in spurts throughout the season vs. pretty much every team in the ACC. It's a matter of maintaining that throughout the days we're down in Greensboro."

Notre Dame's collective efforts defensively and on the boards will determine how many days they're allowed to stay. Top Stories