NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Mike Brey has no answers.
That doesn’t mean Notre Dame’s head coach won’t spend the next week hunting for them. But after Wednesday night’s 68-50 blowout loss to Miami inside Purcell Pavilion – the worst home loss during the program’s three-year ACC run – Brey knows time is running short to solve a problem he didn’t see coming.
The nation’s most efficient offense has shut down and its guard play cut the power. Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem shot a combined 5-of-29 against the Hurricanes and scored just 16 points. Vasturia went 0-for-9 from the field.
Notre Dame (19-10, 10-7) is still alive for a double bye in next week’s ACC Tournament, only needing a home win over N.C. State on Saturday to go with a Duke home loss to North Carolina later that night.
Still, Miami (24-5, 13-4) revealed Notre Dame as a potentially brief postseason player, regardless of when it tips off the league tourney with the NCAA Tournament to follow.
“When your guards can’t get going like that … we won’t beat many teams,” Brey said. “I have absolutely no freaking idea right now. I told my guys, ‘I gotta try and find out how to help you.’
“We’re in search mode and we’ve got to try to find out how to find it.”
Miami raced out to a 12-0 lead within four minutes, prompting Brey to bench surprise starter Austin Burgett. The senior swingman didn’t return. The regular rotation was allowed to play on with Bonzie Colson coming off the bench, but only Zach Auguste delivered.
Notre Dame’s true post finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his third-straight double-double and 17th of the season. Colson grabbed 11 boards in the rebounding rout, won 39-26 by Miami.
“We’ve been in a little funk offensively, we’ve just got to find a way to win games,” Jackson said. “We just haven’t been as sharp offensively. We’re taking really tough shots, we’re not getting as good of looks as we usually do. Then when we are getting good looks, we’re not knocking them in.”
After falling behind 21-3, Notre Dame stabilized by never truly threatened. The Irish cut the Hurricanes’ lead to single digits in the second half for less than a minute. Brey knew Notre Dame wasn’t coming back, not against a program he thinks could land in the Final Four.
“They may win the national championship,” Brey said. “They’re really good and they’re really old. And their men were playing against our boys I thought most of the night.”
The issue facing Brey is a lack of options moving forward, short of turning freshmen Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan into bona fide rotation players. They combined to log 25 minutes against Miami and scored just three total points.
For better or worse, the Irish are stuck with Jackson and Vasturia leading the line, even as both struggle. They both played their customary 38-plus minutes against Miami and each ranks among the six ACC players to average the most minutes this season.
Vasturia downplayed the fatigue factor, but he couldn’t explain going scoreless against Miami after shooting 2-of-8 in Saturday’s blowout loss at Florida State. Vasturia has set back-to-back scoring lows in ACC play in the past five days.
“I don’t think the confidence has been shaken,” he said. “It’s a long season. There’s times where there’s gonna be ups and downs. We’re struggling a bit right now.
“It’s hard to win games when you can’t score the ball. I think we have a lot of confidence that we can play the way that we’re capable of. It’s important to look back and watch ourselves doing that and see where we need to improve.”
A month ago Notre Dame was talking about contending for the ACC regular season title. Now it’s tumbled out of the rankings and has been held under 70 points in four straight games while losing three.
At a minimum, the Irish have three games remaining, starting Saturday on Senior Day against N.C. State. After that, Notre Dame needs to find solutions to avoid being a potential one-and-done in two postseason tournaments.
“I don’t know,” Brey said. “Our guards are really struggling and they’ve been really good. And we really need them to be good. I gotta try and help ‘em. I gotta figure out how to help ‘em.”