Irish have their mojo workin’

Every time Miami, Duke or North Carolina made a run at the Irish in the ACC tournament, Notre Dame had a positive response. Mike Brey believes his Irish can continue to ride that crest in Pittsburgh as they shoot for a Sweet 16 bid for the first time in 12 seasons.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to think about the negatives. Maybe it’s because he’s experienced too many NCAA tournament flameouts to allow the notion to fester.

Or maybe he just believes that this time, after all that’s happened during the regular season and then last week en route to the ACC tournament championship, it’s simply going to be different.

Mike Brey believes that the Fighting Irish -- as he takes his 29-5, No. 3-seeded squad into Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon to play No. 14 seed Northeastern in the first game of the NCAA tournament -- is peaking.

“This is the most confident I’ve been with a team going into the NCAA tournament,” Brey said. “The experience of what happened in Greensboro has given me that, and it’s given the players that, too.”

Considering how far the Irish have come this season, and the work that was accomplished in Greensboro en route to victories over Miami, Duke and North Carolina, Brey is unwilling to take one second to consider the past because what lies in the rearview mirror is counterproductive and, quite frankly, unsightly.

After taking his first three Irish teams to the NCAA tournament, including a Sweet 16 appearance in year three, the Irish had made just six of the previous 11 Big Dances with just two victories in the last decade.

In those last six NCAA tournament appearances, the Irish have lost the first game four times – Winthrop in 2007, Old Dominion in 2010, Xavier in 2012, and Iowa State in 2013.

So when Brey is asked if he’s concerned about his team being at the right emotional level when his squad plays Northeastern, he simply replies, ‘No,’ before adding some context.

“The biggest thing is not to overanalyze,” Brey said. “The thing we’re doing differently this year is we’re going into this thing after winning a championship, and that may be the biggest thing. We handled our league tournament at another level, and I think that gives us a great chance to do more.

“Winning a regular season or conference championship certainly sets you apart going into this next tournament, and this is the only group that’s done it. If we did have a problem with that, it would have showed itself in Greensboro.”

What showed itself in Greensboro was a focused, determined, relentless basketball team that believed there was nothing they couldn’t overcome.

• After allowing No. 6 seed Miami to erase a 20-point first half lead, the Irish out-scored the Hurricanes 21-12 the rest of the way for a 70-63 victory to advance to the ACC semifinals.

• After building a 17-point lead against No. 2 seed Duke Friday night, the Blue Devils cut the deficit to single digits 10 times, including just four (68-64) with 3:12 remaining. The Irish promptly scored the final six points of the game while holding Duke scoreless the rest of the way.

• A 24-10 run by North Carolina to start the second half of the ACC championship game put the Irish in a nine-point hole with less than 12 minutes remaining. Notre Dame proceeded to go on a 24-2 run and score a mind-boggling 41 points over the final 11:13 to claim a 90-82 victory.

Brey remained confident – even though his team was running on fumes the last 10 minutes of the game – particularly when he monitored the feedback during a timeout.

“I didn’t talk the whole timeout; I let them talk,” Brey said. “This leadership and this mojo is those guys talking through things, getting on each other a little bit.

“I started the timeout by saying, ‘If we can get a kill (three straight stops) coming out of here, the whole complexion will change.’ By the end of the timeout, they not only were talking, but they were yelling at each other in a good way like, ‘We’re doing this!’”

The Irish put together six straight stops, and at that point, North Carolina succumbed.

Now it’s a matter of duplicating the effort and emotion in what Brey has called “the Pittsburgh tournament.”

“Can we win the Pittsburgh tournament? That’s all we’re thinking about,” Brey said. “I told them, ‘Don’t even look at the rest of the bracket.’ Just look at the Pittsburgh tournament, let’s win that, come back, regroup, and talk about the Cleveland tournament.”

Now that the Irish have had two days to rest, it’s back to business Tuesday on the basketball court, followed by the trip to Pittsburgh with media obligations Wednesday.

“We were at such a high level down there, especially Friday and Saturday, that I think they know how it feels,” Brey said. “They know how we prepared. We have a reference point of a really higher level.

“It’s the best place we’ve been all around.” Top Stories