IF YOU CAN KEEP YOUR HEAD WHEN ALL ABOUT YOU…
Mike Brey’s use of the phrase “Game Situations” has been omnipresent in post-game wrap-ups this season. His Irish have been presented with them – Magic Johnson famously referred to it as “Winnin’ Time” on nine occasions.
They’ve prevailed in seven of those nine including each of their five conference contests. How?
In short, they attack the rim, make the extra pass for open three-point shots instead of heavily contested offerings, hit their free throws, and defend. Boy do they defend…
Colorado (W): Ahead by 5 with 1:58 remaining, Notre Dame scores 14 points in the final two minutes – hitting 14 of their 14 free throws, mind you – to subdue the Buffaloes.
Northwestern (W): Trailing by 2 with four minutes remaining, the Irish score eight of the final 10 points, registering nine defensive stops in the Wildcats last 10 possessions.
Villanova (L): The first failure. Leading by 1 with four minutes remaining, the defending champions Wildcats out-score the Irish 9-2 to seal the contest. Seven of ‘Nova’s nine points come courtesy the foul line as Notre Dame misses three 3-point shots (and four jumpers total) that could have made a difference.
Purdue (L): Trailing 80-77 at the four-minute mark, Notre Dame never closes the gap, losing 86-81 due largely to back-to-back turnovers and a missed three-point shot that would have tied the score with 24 seconds remaining.
-- My subjective view of the Villanova/Purdue failures, games in which Notre Dame held double digit second-half leads: Villanova chased, caught, and subdued Notre Dame…the Irish blew it against the Boilers.
Pittsburgh (W): Down five with 2:45 remaining, Notre Dame six of the last seven points in regulation to earn overtime. Falling behind by 5 in overtime, the Irish score six of the last eight – registering a “Kill” (three consecutive defensive stops) in the process – before Steve Vasturia’s clutch game-winning triple with three seconds remaining.
Louisville (W): Tied at the two-minute mark, Brey’s crew scores nine of the last 11 including a buzzer beating 3-pointer off an underneath in-bounds (Matt Farrell to Vasturia) serving as the knockout blow. Notre Dame’s defense forces two turnovers en route to another game-ending “Kill.”
Clemson (W): Trailing by 2 with three minutes remaining, Notre Dame scores on its last four possessions (three 3-pointers and a layup) with Farrell hitting two of the triples and assisting on the third.
Miami (W): Down four with three minutes remaining, Notre Dame scores 10 of the final 11 points on the strength of three layups and four free throws (4-4) while again registering a game-ending “Kill” on the defensive end.
Virginia Tech (W): Tied with 2:41 to play, Notre Dame outscores its hosts 12-7, registering a kill (forcing three turnovers) and sealing the contest on Matt Farrell’s sure-to-be-famous diving steal of a Hokies’ “rolling in-bounds” pass with 24 seconds remaining. Farrell’s heady play resulted in an Irish layup and five-point lead, effectively ending the contest.
(Curiously, Notre Dame connects on just four of its game-ending eight free throw attempts with misses by each of its four best free throw shooters.)
THE BENCH BRIGADE
Combine the reality of 13 turnovers versus 14 assists and shoddy 13-for-20 shooting effort at the foul line – including 4-for-8 attempting to put the game away – and Notre Dame won in unfamiliar fashion Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg.
Mike Brey can again thank his trio of reliable backups for their aggregate effort to that end.
- T.J. Gibbs: 13 points on seven shots, an assist on a three-pointer, three rebounds, and a steal in 17 minutes. Gibbs ability to play alongside point guard Matt Farrell is undervalued after a prep career possessing the basketball on every play.
- Rex Pflueger: Seven points, two assists, and a steal in 21 minutes. Pflueger limited Hokies guard Seth Allen to five points in the second stanza after the latter posted 11 to keep Virginia Tech alive in the first.
- Austin Torres: A third strong outing over his last four contests, Granger’s own registered four points with three boards in nine minutes. Of note, Torres has connected on eight of his last nine field goal attempts and both of his free throws dating back to a 77-70 win over Louisville. He’s played just 26 minutes in that span but contributed six boards, three blocks and two steals.
In a contest where Matt Farrell (1-4) and V.J. Beachem (0-4) combined for just one field goal from long range, and in a road outing where Bonzie Colson was able to squeeze off just seven shots, Brey’s bench again rode to the rescue.
ROAD DOGS AND HOUSE MONEY
Notre Dame’s first-ever 5-0 conference start is notable, but its staying power lies within.
That is, it’s largely irrelevant that the Irish are in “first place” through five games – the league’s lone undefeated. Rather, it’s the reality that three of the five wins occurred outside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion, each with Notre Dame staked to the role of minor underdog.
Just six road games remain, but it doesn’t get any easier:
- At No. 9 Florida State (Wednesday): The Irish will again be billed as underdogs against the athletic, long, explosive Seminoles. FSU experienced its first league loss yesterday at North Carolina.
- At Georgia Tech (Jan. 28): The Yellow Jackets have already beaten North Carolina and Clemson inside the Thriller Dome this season. Notre Dame annually plays the Rambling Wreck in a home-and-home format with this, the first of two meetings.
- At No. 11 North Carolina (Feb. 4): The Irish will likely face their biggest point spread margin of the season – barring a matchup against a No. 1 seed in late March.
- At Boston College (Feb. 14): The first of two matchups against the Eagles, head coach Jim Christian’s improved squad beat Syracuse handily in Chestnut Hill to start league play. It’s a “must win” but a tough out for the Irish. The Eagles are 2-0 at home, 0-3 on the road.
- At N.C. State (Feb. 18): The Wolfpack is 1-0 at home (they destroyed Virginia Tech) and 0-3 on the road.
- At No. 14 Louisville (March 4): A rematch of Notre Dame’s 77-70 win two weeks ago. Louisville handled Duke inside the KFC YUM! Center Saturday.
Considering Notre Dame’s home court pedigree (a 7-2 mark appears the worst-case scenario), just three wins versus the above sextet would doubtless ensure a double bye for the ACC Tournament – not to mention a possible ACC regular season crown.