Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Notre Dame’s Brooklyn Bridge

Can familiarity with an arena really make a difference? Not if the Irish can’t solve the defensive prowess of likely foe Virginia. But there’s a comfort zone in Brooklyn.

NEW YORK – Ah, the Barclays Center.

Where Notre Dame comes to play.

And win.

When the Irish open ACC Tournament play Thursday night as the No. 3 seed against the winner of No. 14 Pittsburgh-No. 6 Virginia, a sense of confidence will accompany them.

The Barclays Center is where the Irish advanced to their second straight Elite Eight with victories last year over Michigan and Stephen F. Austin.

The Barclays Center also is the place where the Irish won the Legends Classic this past November with conquests of Colorado and Northwestern.

For Notre Dame, it feels like a home away from home.

“We won a championship on this floor – The Legends (Classic),” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “That was a great step. We also had success during the NCAA tournament last year.

“So we’re coming full circle, maybe playing for another trophy.”

For the Irish to win their second ACC championship in three years – the Pat Connaughton/Jerian Grant-led 2014-15 squad defeated Miami, Duke and North Carolina to earn the crown – they’ll likely have to get past a team that does not inspire confidence within the Irish.

Virginia.

Since joining the ACC four years ago, the Irish are 0-5 against the Cavaliers with a 14-point average margin of defeat.

But until Notre Dame’s Thursday night opponent is determined – No. 14-seed Pittsburgh and No. 6-seed Virginia square off late Wednesday night -- the Irish will enjoy their digs and dream of fond memories at the Barclays Center.

• V.J. Beachem enters the ACC tournament with a 15.2 scoring average at the Barclays Center, including 18 points against Michigan and 17 versus Colorado. He’s converted 9-of-25 (36.0 percent) from three-point range.

Beachem’s post-season success began in Washington D.C. in last year’s ACC tournament, and then continued on to the Barclays Center, where he made 6-of-14 three-pointers.

“You flip the switch,” Beachem said. “We know what time it is. We know the focus it requires to do the things we want to do, but this group may be a little hungrier.

“The first time we (went to the Elite Eight), everything was new to us. Last year we felt like we wanted to live up to a certain expectation. This year…we’ve been to the Elite Eight. We want to take it further than anybody in the program has done in a while.

“All of that begins with what we do in Brooklyn.”

• Bonzie Colson averaged 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament wins at the Barclays last March. He also averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the Legends Classic.

“We’ve had great games there,” Colson said. “We’ve got a good feel for that place. We like the arena. We like how the spotlight is on the court.

“Having played there, you’ve got a sense for the court, the rim, the background with the crowd…It’s an advantage for us and something we can feed off of.”

• Matt Farrell launched his Notre Dame career in earnest by starting against Michigan and Stephen F. Austin – the first two starts of his career.

Eight months later, he claimed the Legends Classic MVP award by virtue of his 38 points and 12 assists at the Barclays Center against Colorado and Northwestern. In 66 minutes of action, he committed just one turnover.

“We’re very confident playing in Brooklyn with the things we’ve done there,” Farrell said. “We’ve had a lot of fun in Brooklyn. We’re really comfortable playing there.”

For Farrell, it’s about more than a basketball arena. It’s about the location of this basketball arena as well. The New Jersey native has a throng of family and friends that come out to support him every time he returns to his stomping grounds.

Among those expected to be in attendance this week, as he was for the November Legends Classic, is his brother, Bo Farrell, a Senior First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army who has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

“I feel comfortable with a lot of people there, a lot of family members and friends,” Farrell said.

The Barclays Center also holds a special place in his heart because of how it jump-started his Notre Dame career.

“I look at that as a positive,” Farrell said.

He took it to another level when his three-point play with 14.7 seconds remaining and two free throws with 3.6 left lifted the Irish over Northwestern.

“Not to be afraid of the moment,” said Farrell of the lesson learned that night against the Wildcats. “A big stage like that, you have to be confident and want the ball in that situation, whether it’s getting other guys involved or just trying to make winning plays.”

• Rex Pflueger’s tip-in with 1.5 seconds remaining lifted Notre Dame to a 76-75 victory over Stephen F. Austin, sending the Irish to Philadelphia for their second straight Elite Eight.

“I’ve played a little sand volleyball in my time,” beamed Pflueger after his game-winner in Brooklyn. “I think that might have helped a little bit.”

Not only does the Barclays Center provide a comfort zone for Notre Dame, so too does the arrival of post-regular-season play.

“Our guys believe it’s their time,” Brey said. “That’s 80 percent of the battle to have guys believing and being confident.

“I’ve always had teams before that you tell to dream, but they never had experienced it. This group has experienced it in both tournaments. That’s a huge part of the psychological advantage I hope we have.”

Brey had one eye on Brooklyn as far back as November.

“I was talking about the karma still being here,” said Brey after Notre Dame won the November Legends Classic.

““We’re comfortable in this building. We’ll come back in March and try to get some more.”

They’re back.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories