Tim Prister’s Full Court Press

After winning four straight on the road against North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State, the Irish have now dropped two in a row away from home to Pittsburgh and Duke. Notre Dame will try to atone Tuesday at Clemson.

One-sided outcomes -- whether for or against -- bring out the alliterative nature in wordsmiths entrusted with quantifying a sporting carnage.

Destruction in Durham
Blue Devil Bash
Cameron Crush

Whatever phrase you apply to it, Notre Dame’s 90-60 loss Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium was every bit as thorough of a pounding as the English language can encapsulate.

Duke converted 17-of-21 first-half shots, which comes out to a mouth-agape 81.3 percent. On the other end of the floor, the first 20 minutes were like a perpetual power-play opportunity for the Blue Devils.

Are you sure they only had five guys on the court when Notre Dame was trying to run its offense?

Squeezed further and further away from the rim, Notre Dame’s quick 6-0 lead came and went in a flash as Justise Winslow and off-the-bench spark Matt Jones led a remarkable 43-7 run that became an insurmountable 50-24 halftime lead.

“I had to look at the stat sheet to make sure it only counted as one loss because that was a thorough beating,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey, who never spares the plaudits for the opposition.

“The knockout punch basically came in the first half. Their defense was really good for 20 minutes. We couldn’t get any kind of confidence going.”

With leading scorer Jerian Grant hounded by high school teammate Quinn Cook, Zach Auguste paralyzed by the moment, and road warrior Pat Connaughton limited to just seven shots and nine points, the Irish were overcome by the avalanche that is a Cameron Indoor Stadium moment, which was made imminently more difficult by Notre Dame’s victory over the Blue Devils in South Bend a week-and-a-half earlier.

“They did to us what we like to do to other teams: they got up and pressured the ball,” Connaughton said. “Instead of being more physical back (at them) and using backdoor cuts and out-smarting ball pressure, we started our offense farther out from the hoop.”

Otherworldly freshman big man Jahlil Okafor, who would do most of his 20-point damage in the second half, fell into quick foul trouble and was not a factor during Duke’s 43-7 run. But it didn’t matter. Whatever might have been missing from the Duke lineup was supplied by a Cameron Crazy crescendo – there’s that alliteration again -- that was just too much for the Irish to take.

“For as many atmospheres as we’ve been in, it probably knocked them back on their heels,” said Brey of his players. “As much as you try to diffuse it, it’s really an amazing home court atmosphere they have here.”

As Brey was pressed during post-game to provide explanations for his team’s collapse, he was well on his way to moving on with a trip to Clemson Tuesday night.

That’s one of the things that annoy the daylights out of people with Brey. He’s so quick to turn a bad event into a silver lining. Some interpret that as not taking the loss hard enough or not sharing in the responsibility of the loss.

In reality, it is the defense mechanism of a coach and, over the course of a rollercoaster conference schedule, the only way to keep sane and on an even keel, which is necessary to bounce back from the highs and lows of league play.

“In this league, you’ve got to have a short memory because you’ve got Clemson coming real quick,” Brey said. “I got our key guys out (with about eight minutes remaining) because we’ve got a game coming Tuesday. You’ve got to have a short memory in league play.

“We’ll move on quick. I would hope and I would think the leaders that I have and what they’ve shown all year, they’ll be energized to play in another tough place against a team that can guard us just as well.

“We’ll tear up the stat sheet, throw the video away, get in and practice (Sunday) and get ready to head south again. This is their first butt-kicking, so knowing the kind of leaders I have, I would think they’ll rally the troops and have an edge about them.”

Once the Irish defeated Duke at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 28, the odds of going to Cameron 10 days later and coming away with a win became infinitesimal. Kentucky may be the only team in the country that could have pulled it off.

Now, you don’t want to concede a game by 30, which, by the way is the most lopsided loss of the Brey era. But in the real world of college basketball, it’s still just a loss.

Over the long haul, what happened Saturday at Cameron will serve Notre Dame well. This team thrives on motivation, and few things are more motivating to a top 10 team that a butt-whipping like that. Brey got rest for his key players down the stretch and got minutes for players like Austin Torres, Martin Geben (who both played well), Austin Burgett and Matt Farrell.

Additionally, it was another progressive step for freshman Bonzie Colson (eight points and four rebounds in 16 minutes), sophomore Steve Vasturia (15 points) and sophomore Demetrius Jackson, who backed up his fiery approach during Notre Dame’s poor play.

“He went off on guys in the first half,” said Brey of Jackson, who finished with 11 points and played as well as anyone for the Irish.

“In the midst of a tough night, he emerged with another step of being a vocal guy. I told him I loved that. It wasn’t Pat and Jerian; it was him, and then he backed it up.”

While Brey’s optimism in the face of embarrassment can be infuriating, it is the way he deals with a setback, whether by one point or 30. The reality of the situation is that as non-competitive as the final score seems to indicate, the Irish battled hard over the final 27 minutes, equaling Duke’s scoring production at 47 apiece after the 43-13 disparity.

At 9-2 in the ACC entering the weekend, the Irish needed a split in the two-game swing to Durham and Clemson. Had the win come against Duke, the sights would have been adjusted higher. But whether the loss to Duke was narrow or Grand Canyonesque, the Irish need a win at Clemson, where the Tigers and head coach Brad Brownell have defensive clampdown capabilities. (Note: Clemson – 14-8, 6-4 -- plays at Miami Sunday evening, which makes for a short turnaround.)

“Clemson is slowly becoming an NCAA tournament team,” Brey said. “They’ve been off the radar, but they’re sneaking up on everybody. They can defend (comparable) to Duke.”

As Brey’s six-and-a-half-minute post-game chat came to a conclusion, there was no dampening his forward-thinking persona.

“I have one of the shortest memories ever,” Brey said. “I’m going to watch the Louisville-Virginia game tonight, and when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be fine. We’ll be on to the next one.”

Brey, of course, was pulling for a Louisville road victory at Virginia, which he didn’t get. That means the Irish are now two full games behind the Cavaliers in the loss column, although Notre Dame remains in second place in the ACC, one-half game ahead of North Carolina and two wins north of Duke and Louisville, who’ll catch up game-wise with the Irish having Saturday, Feb. 14, and Saturday, Feb. 28 off.

One footnote: the Cavaliers, despite the victory, lost leading score Justin Anderson to a broken finger, which will sideline him at least through the rest of the regular season.

“Again, it did only count as one loss, right?” Brey said.

Indeed, just one. A bad one, to be sure, but one that still keeps the 1-1 road-trip goal in order Tuesday night in Littlejohn Coliseum.

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