Game 23: Duke (16-5, 4-4) @ Notre Dame (17-5, 6-3)
-- Date: Jan. 30, 2017
-- Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
-- Time: 7:00 pm ET
-- TV: ESPN
-- Opponent Nickname: Blue Devils
-- Conference: ACC
-- Head coach: Mike Krzyzewski (1,058-324 overall; 985-265 in 37th year at Duke)
-- Location: Durham, N.C.
-- 2015-16 record: (25-11, 11-7/t5th)
-- 2016 Postseason: Sweet 16
-- Point spread: Pick ‘em
It’s been a tumultuous 2016-17 season for the Blue Devils, from injuries to highly-touted freshman Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, as well as veteran Amile Jefferson, to the incorrigible nature of Grayson Allen, to the back surgery that has taken head coach Mike Krzyzewski off the Duke bench.
Duke opened ACC play with a 14-point loss at Virginia Tech. After home wins over Georgia Tech (by 53) and Boston College (by 11), the Blue Devils lost at Florida State by 16 and at Louisville by nine.
A win at home against Miami by 12 seemed to stabilize things. But up 12 in the first half at home against N.C. State, and leading by nine with less than seven minutes left, Duke lost to the Wolfpack, 84-82, after allowing 46 second half points.
To reach the 4-4 mark in ACC play Saturday, the Blue Devils overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and scored 53 second-half points to claim an 85-83 victory.
Only senior guard Matt James has played in all 21 games for the Blue Devils. Counter that with Notre Dame using the same starting lineup in all 22 of its games.
Duke was 1-1 under Krzyzewski in league play. Interim head coach Jeff Capel has led the Blue Devils to a 3-3 mark.
“I think they found themselves on Saturday,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. “That was a big day for them. Their backs were against the wall and they made big plays and big shots to win. I think they’ll come in here very confident.”
It will be a much different approach for the Irish after a slugfest at Georgia Tech Saturday. Luke Kennard, who scored 34 points in the victory over Wake Forest, including 6-of-6 from three-point range, is Duke’s top long-range threat, along with Allen, Jones and freshman Frank Jackson.
“(Duke’s) perimeter guys know how to shoot it,” Brey said. “Kennard is just so explosive. Allen driving it and him as their point guard…he gets them stuff. Matt Jones, too.
“We have to switch quickly on the turnaround. You went from being able to jam up the lane against Georgia Tech that doesn’t shoot (three-pointers) much to a team that can light you up from out there. So we’ve got to get out on shooters and our bigs will be alone in the post.”
Brey credited Capel for righting the ship amidst difficult circumstances against Wake Forest.
“Jeff Capel is doing a heckuva job,” Brey said. “That is one tough situation to be handed. I thought he did a fabulous job coaching his team in the second half (against Wake Forest).”
With Notre Dame holding a four-games-to-one advantage over Duke since entering the ACC four seasons ago, the Irish respect but don’t fear the Blue Devils.
“These guys have had success against Duke and they feel they can beat the Duke program,” Brey said. “Those have been great credibility wins for us nationally.
“This place will be rockin’ and rolling. It will be a great atmosphere. We have had a great atmosphere for every (ACC) home game. I’m thrilled with how our fans have delivered for us.”
TURNING THE PAGE
After winning the first five games of ACC play, the Irish have lost two in a row and three of the last four.
Time for panic to set in and wholesale changes?
“We never panic,” Brey said. “This is the most un-panicked program in the history of college basketball. We just kind of methodically keep going through it.”
While Brey acknowledged the inability to keep Virginia and Georgia Tech away from the offensive glass has become a fairly consistent theme, he analyzed the recent woes objectively.
“We played really good teams,” Brey said. “There’s no question about it. Maybe we haven’t been able to get into the best of offensive rhythms. But I would give a lot of credit to the defensive schemes of both teams.”
Normally, a solid defensive output by the Irish translates into victories through sheer offensive scoring punch. It’s a rare day when allowing 71 points at home and 62 points on the road is too much for the Notre Dame offense.
“Defensively, scoring-wise, we did what we needed to do,” Brey said. “Virginia got to 71 at the end, and Georgia Tech scored in the (low) 60s. That should be enough if our offense is clicking.”
With a trip to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina looming this weekend, it would be natural to view the Duke game as a must-win situation for the Irish. A loss tonight and a loss in the Dean Dome would drop Notre Dame to 6-5 in the conference after a 5-0 start.
“Not at all,” Brey said. “We finished the first half of the league 6-3. We’re kind of at 0-0 again. I told (the players), ‘Let’s clean the slate and get these back nine.’
“We’re 3-2 on the road. We’ve put ourselves in a great position. I’m hoping because we got out of the gate with five league wins, maybe nothing is a must-win situation during the regular season. But we’ll see.”
THE BACK NINE
After Monday’s game with Duke and the weekend trip to North Carolina, Notre Dame’s remaining seven ACC games look favorable.
Four of the last seven are at home. Two of those games are against 14th place Boston College. One is against 12th place Wake Forest at home. One is at 11th place N.C. State.
The Irish get rematches on their own court against Florida State and Georgia Tech. The last regular-season game is the most difficult – at Louisville – but by then, the hay could be in the barn.
The Irish were 3-2 on the road and 3-1 at home during the first half of the ACC slate.
“You look at the back nine and (you assess) what you can do,” Brey said. “It’s a fine line between getting good practice reps and keeping guys fresh.
“I do like the fact that after tomorrow, we have a little time before we play again. When these games are bunched together, that’s a lot of minutes on guys’ legs.”
HELP FROM ABOVE
While the Irish dropped both games last week to fall to 6-3 in league play, Florida State lost by 22 at Georgia Tech and 10 at Syracuse. North Carolina lost by 15 at Miami.
Notre Dame enters Monday’s game with Duke tied for second with Florida State and Louisville, one game in the loss column behind North Carolina and Virginia.
“We’re thrilled to be 6-3 in this league at the end of January, given what’s going on in this league,” Brey said. “After watching this week, starting with (N.C.) State winning at Duke, this has the absolute feel of the 11-bid year in the ACC.”
Brey’s viewpoint has rubbed off on his players.
“It brings everything into perspective when you see how tough this league is, especially playing on the road,” said V.J. Beachem, who scored 23 points at Georgia Tech. “It would have been great to get out of there with another league road win, but we’ve got a great opportunity Monday to bounce back.”
“We understand that it’s a tough conference and a lot of teams are going down,” said Bonzie Colson, who scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds at Georgia Tech. “We try to focus on ourselves. We’ve got a great opportunity to do what we do and get back to winning on both sides of the floor.”
AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
Since Notre Dame began playing basketball near the end of the 19th century, nearly 800 young men have worn the Irish uniform. Only 60 have scored as many as 1,000 points.
V.J. Beachem joined the club Saturday when he tossed in 23 points in a losing effort against Georgia Tech.
“It’s something you dream about as a kid,” Beachem said. “It’s really not about me. It’s about my teammates and my coaches and putting me in the position to make plays and knock down shots. But it’s great company to be in.”
How high can Beachem take that number? He won’t catch Steve Vasturia, who now has 1,245 points, which is 35th on Notre Dame’s all-time list. Beachem has 1,013 points, which ties him for 59th.
“We’ve only got 11 guaranteed games left,” Beachem smiled. “Hopefully, we can stretch that out to like 20 and go from there.”
POINTS IN THE PAINT
• Despite the quick turnaround from Saturday to Monday, Brey intended to put his team through some physical activity Sunday.
“When you lose a tough one, you need to come back and compete a little bit,” Brey said. “Some guys who maybe weren’t in a great rhythm, you’ve got to give them a chance to get into a rhythm, especially offensively.”
• Austin Torres continues to give the Irish valuable minutes off the bench, if not much scoring punch. He played a career-high 21 minutes against the Yellow Jackets, grabbing five rebounds, and taking two charges and getting a tie-up within the first three minutes of the second half.
“He’s been fabulous,” Brey said. “He’s been great. He knows who he is. He defends. His leadership…I’m not surprised at all (by the extended minutes). If we need him to do it again (versus Duke), he can do it. He’s really a believer. Our guys like playing with him.”
• It was a less productive day for super-subs Rex Pflueger and T.J. Gibbs, who combined for 24 minutes, zero points, 0-of-3 shooting, zero rebounds and three assists against Georgia Tech.
“Rex and T.J. had a tough day,” Brey said. “They’ve been so good for us that we don’t want them to have their head down or worried about stuff. It’s a long road. We need them to bounce back because their energy off the bench and their defending off the bench really help us.”
Prister/O’Malley Prediction: Notre Dame 80, Duke 76