After losing all but one of nine road games in its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame won seven of nine last year and has split six contests so far this season.
Now the Irish enter the final phase of conference travel in 2016 with visits to Georgia Tech Saturday night, Wake Forest next Wednesday, and Florida State the following Saturday.
“We’ve adjusted,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey, whose squad has won 10 of its last 15 ACC games away from Purcell Pavilion, including victories at North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson and Louisville last year, and conquests of Duke and Clemson this season.
When the Irish were about to enter their first season in the ACC (2013-14), Brey warned that the comforts of the Big East’s larger, neutral road sites – several in NBA arenas – would be missed.
“The old neutral site feel you’d get for (former Big East brethren) Georgetown or Villanova, All-State Arena with DePaul, and even The Rock when we used to play Seton Hall in Newark, there were a lot of (Notre Dame) people there,” Brey said. “You don’t get as many tickets (for ACC road games), so it’s a tougher place to play in.”
But after suffering heartbreak after heartbreak on the road in 2014 – seven of their eight road losses were by a combined 36 points (5.1 points per game) – the Irish have gotten the hang of things away from home, just as Brey’s teams did in the Big East at places like Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati, Villanova and Georgetown.
“I think our guys have adjusted and adapted really well,” said Brey of the ACC on-campus venues. “What really helps you, not only overall in ACC success but road success, is to have great guard play, and these last two seasons, we’ve had great guard play. That helps you steal road wins.”
Junior Demetrius Jackson has developed into one of the nation’s top point guards, and when the Irish hit the road, he tends to shoot a little bit more, which is a good thing, particularly when he’s penetrating the lane. There are times when as Jackson goes, so go the Irish.
In road ACC losses this year, Jackson did not play at Syracuse (a 15-point loss) following a hamstring injury. He converted just 3-of-11 from the field – including 0-of-4 from three-point range – in a nine-point loss at Miami that easily could have been 19.
The one game where Jackson put up solid statistics in an ACC road loss was at Virginia (18 points, 4-of-10 shooting from three-point range). It coincided, however, with Irish senior big man Zach Auguste scoring one point with two rebounds in 22 minutes of action against the Cavaliers.
In five ACC road games, Jackson is 37-of-67 (.552) from the field.
Brey includes junior Steve Vasturia in his backcourt praise, and rightfully so. While Jackson was scoring 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting in a 95-91 victory over Duke, Vasturia was hitting 8-of-16 -- including 4-of-6 from three-point range -- in the victory.
In six ACC road games, Vasturia has averaged a solid 16 points per game on 32-of-62 shooting from the field (.516), including an outlying 13-of-22 (.590) from three-point range. One could argue that Vasturia should shoot a bit more on the road.
“Our two guards really set the tone,” Brey said.
Contributing to that tone, particularly on the defensive end, is 6-foot-6 freshman Rex Pflueger, whose breakthrough performance came at Duke when he provided 23 minutes of tenacious play on both ends of the court.
Sharp-shooting swingman V.J. Beachem has saved some of his best performances for the road, converting 11-of-22 from three-point range in the last three road trips to Syracuse, Miami and Clemson.
Significantly contributing to the wins at Duke and Clemson were frequent trips to the free-throw line and stellar production. The Irish were a combined 37-of-45 from the line (.822) against the Blue Devils and Tigers.
Pflueger is 9-of-10 (.900) from the line in ACC road games. Bonzie Colson is 18-of-21 (.857).
Only Duke (5-2) and North Carolina (4-2) have a better record on the road in the ACC than Notre Dame. Of the remaining road games, Georgia Tech (2-4), Wake Forest (1-5) and Florida State (3-4) are a combined 6-13 on their home floors in ACC play.
“Our guys like silencing a crowd,” Brey said. “Any competitor does. You really feel like all you have are your guys on the bench and maybe a couple families and friends.
“You like going in and seeing the opposing team’s crowd leaving a little early if you’ve got it sewed up. This nucleus has developed a pretty good vibe of competing on the road and going for it and wanting to silence a road crowd.”
It starts with Notre Dame’s guard play.