When Notre Dame (14-2, 3-0) embarks upon a three-game road trip beginning at Miami Thursday, it will mark the seventh time in the 17-year Mike Brey era that the Irish have played a trio of conference games consecutively in enemy territory.
Notre Dame, who along with Florida State are the only two unscathed ACC teams in conference play, would have to beat some long odds to remain that way after trips through Miami – where the Hurricanes have won 20 in a row – Blacksburg (Virginia Tech on Sat., Jan. 14), and Tallahassee (Wed., Jan. 18).
“I’ve told them all along that we’re going to take punches in our league,” said Brey, who’s always ready to deal with prosperity as well as adversity, particularly away from Purcell Pavilion. “It’s how we react.
“Right now, we have a huge belief of finishing close games, and that is a psychological advantage for us, especially going into three tough road atmospheres.”
The Irish dealt quite well with their first road test of the 2016-17 season when they overcame a five-point deficit at the end of regulation and another five-point hole at the end of overtime in their 78-77 victory at Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve.
But with last week’s home wins over Louisville and Clemson, the pressure to remain undefeated goes up a couple of notches in environments that promise to be a test of Notre Dame’s discipline and courage in venues designed to create discomfort.
In Brey’s six previous attempts in three straight conference road games, the Irish have never come away unscathed. Twice the Irish won two out of three:
• 2010-11: As a member of the Big East, the Irish won at South Florida (78-55), lost at West Virginia (72-58), and knocked off Providence (94-93).
• 2001-02: In Brey’s second year at the helm of the Irish, he took his team to Morgantown and defeated West Virginia (67-64), beat No. 23 Pittsburgh (56-53), and fell at Syracuse (56-51).
In late-February last season, the Irish lost at Georgia Tech (63-62) on a game-winner by Marcus Georges-Hunt with two seconds remaining, bounced back with a victory at Wake Forest (69-58), and then were stampeded by Florida State (77-56).
Compounding the challenge for the Irish this time around is the way Miami handled them a year ago, the rise of Virginia Tech under Buzz Williams, and the juggernaut that is Florida State, at least at the present time.
Miami defeated Notre Dame in Coral Gables last year, 79-70, and then opened up 12-0 and 21-3 leads a month later in a resounding 68-50 victory in Purcell Pavilion. The Hurricanes have lost a lot of firepower since then, but remain a tough out in the Watsco Center.
“It’s obviously a tough stretch of games on the road against three very good teams,” said Irish senior Steve Vasturia. “Miami took it to us a couple times last year. They graduated a lot of guys, but they’re talented, they’re long and they attack. They’re extremely athletic.”
From Miami, the Irish head to Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, followed by the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee.
The Hokies have defeated Duke (89-75) and Syracuse (83-73) at home in conference play so far this year, and Virginia last season. Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State squad already has convincing home wins over Virginia Tech (93-78) and Duke (88-72) this season, and Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse last year.
“It would be a great win for us, but it will be hard going down there with their (home) win streak,” said junior Bonzie Colson.
“We’ve got to continue to have that confidence and be consistent with our habits on both ends of the floor. What we did in (the last three games) is over. Now we’ve got Miami.”
Still, the Irish will lean on their past road successes, including a 7-2 mark away from Purcell Pavilion in 2014-15, a respectable 4-5 mark last season, and the 1-0 ACC road start to this season.
“Moving forward but looking back on tough games and gritting things out is a great lesson for us,” said senior V.J. Beachem. “Two games in three days, it’s almost like an NCAA tournament atmosphere, but you’re playing two road games.
“We played Pitt, which is a great team on the road. We were able to squeak one out there, which was great for our confidence moving forward.”