WASHINGTON – If the quarterfinals game of the 2016 ACC tournament between No. 4 seed Notre Dame and No. 5 seed goes according to Hoyle, look for another dizzying pace up and down the Verizon Center hardwood.
The Blue Devils survived a frantic second-round game Wednesday, 92-89, as upstart N.C. State attacked from the outset, forcing Duke to play with a similar tempo, which sent historians scrambling for the ACC tournament record book.
It’s been 21 years since an ACC tournament game offered more points than the 181 combined between the Blue Devils and the Wolfpack, and that game – a 97-92 North Carolina victory over Maryland in 1995 -- went into overtime.
Common sense/disciplined play may dictate a more measured approach in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. And yet, when Notre Dame visited Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 16, the Irish claimed a 95-91 victory over Duke.
It’s the only time this season the Irish have reached the 90-point mark, and they needed career-high performances from Bonzie Colson (31 points), Demetrius Jackson (24) and Steve Vasturia (22) to eclipse the Blue Devils.
Duke, on the other hand, has scored at least 90 points nine times this year, which may give Mike Brey and his troops cause to hesitate before declaring its intentions of playing at a breakneck pace.
Before the Notre Dame football team employs a hurry-up mode of attack against Duke this fall on the gridiron, the basketball team will offer its version.
“We love the pace,” said Brey on Monday, just a few hours before leaving for the nation’s capital. “What do you want to call it, the anti-burn?
“I’ve got a title that will help our fans understand it: no-huddle. We like getting the ball in and up the floor. It gets us in attack mode.”
The Irish weren’t pushing the tempo prior to their 89-75 victory over N.C. State five days ago, which got them out of a scoring rut from the previous four games when Notre Dame averaged less than 60 points per game.
But Brey needed to do something to send a jolt through his squad, which is normally one of the most offensively efficient teams in the land. His solution? Run, run, and run some more.
“I think it’s good for Demetrius (Jackson),” said Brey of his speedy point guard. “That was one of the reasons I thought we needed to do it, to get him moving.
“And you love when you can go with (backup point guard) Matt Farrell, who can really push the pace. We want to continue getting up and down and doing things quick.”
That certainly makes sense from a stamina standpoint. With veteran 6-foot-9 forward Amile Jefferson out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is leaning heavily on his five starters – freshmen Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard, sophomore Grayson Allen, junior Matt Jones, and senior Marshall Plumlee.
The Blue Devils went seven deep against N.C. State with freshmen Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter the only two to come off the bench. From that standpoint it makes sense to test Duke’s stamina.
“What we’ve talked about coming into this week is don’t pace yourself,” Krzyzewski said. “Play one game at a time. Let’s get better, and we had to get better because (North Carolina) State was so good. We’ll do the same thing (Thursday).
“If it ends up that we run out of gas, the one thing we have going for us (in the NCAA tournament) is we have spring break next week. This tournament deserves you and the conference deserves you playing your best, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Krzyzewski now has another factor to consider after the N.C. State game. Plumlee – his only consistent rebounder outside of the wildly talented but willowy Ingram – suffered a broken nose late in the game against the Wolfpack.
“They’re in great condition,” said Krzyzewski of his squad. “I’m not as worried about them being tired as I am about them being in foul trouble.”
On one hand, the Irish would love to build upon their tempo against N.C. State, play more guys – as Brey did last Saturday – and test Duke’s physical resilience. Yet the Blue Devils’ offense thrived against the Wolfpack with four players scoring between 17 and 22 points.
Tempering that pace may be the most prudent course of action at times, and nobody understands that better than Demetrius Jackson.
“We want to play (fast) and that’s the way we’re going to play going forward,” Jackson said. “But you also have to play smart and realize in certain situations, you need to walk it up and make sure we get a really great shot. Being a point guard, that’s definitely my job.”
One player who loves the idea of an open-court game is 6-foot-10 Zach Auguste, the long, loping, athletic Irish senior who is difficult to contain when he gets in full gallop and comes careening through the lane.
“I love the tempo,” said Auguste, who scored just nine points in the January game against Duke, but missed numerous point-blank-range shots along the way.
“I love to get out in transition, run and dunk. It’s fun. It’s a change of pace for us and it allows us to keep the defense on its (heels). It allows us to play at a better tempo.”
With tempo comes the need to play more bodies, and right now, the Irish have a couple more than the Blue Devils.
“If we’re pushing the tempo and playing faster, guys are going to get tired quicker,” said junior swingman V.J. Beachem. “Having fresh bodies coming in and ready to produce is going to be big for us.
“If teams stop our break two or three times in a row, let’s set it up and try to get a good possession. Other than that, we want to try to push it whenever we can.”
When these two titans of the ACC clash, anything can happen, but it’s more likely to be fast-paced. Since the Irish joined the conference three years ago, they’ve won four out of five over Duke.
Last year in the ACC tournament, the Irish took a 15-point halftime lead and won by eight.
If they keep this hot streak alive, it likely will be on the run.
“To win and score the ball at that pace helps instead of still being in searching mode,” Brey said.
Added Krzyzewski: “They’re a really good offensive team and so are we. They’ll have a little more rest, but our guys will be ready to go.”