Exhausted Irish Shuffled Off To Buffalo

Princeton offers a challenging offensive system after sweeping through the conference regular season undefeated and winning the first-ever Ivy League tournament.

There was talk of a three-seed, and likely nothing worse than a four.

A five-seed in the West Region after tying for second in the ACC regular season and narrowly missing an ACC tournament championship?

Mike Brey has bigger and more important things to think about.

“I erase all seed lines,” said Brey shortly after it was announced that the Irish would be heading to Buffalo to take on 12-seed Princeton (23-6) in first-round action of the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish and Tigers are slated for a 12:15 p.m. ET tip-off Thursday at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The winner takes on the survivor of No. 4 seed West Virginia vs. No. 13 seed Bucknell.

“We’ve got our mini-bracket with (Princeton), West Virginia and Bucknell,” Brey said. “That’s the only thing we’re focused on.”

That and getting his weary Irish – which includes Brey himself – back into fighting shape after victories over Virginia and Florida State, and a battle for the ACC Tournament crown late Saturday night against Duke sapped their energy.

Three straight late-night games – plus the level of intensity of the ACC tournament – took a toll.

“We’re still spent,” Brey said. “We are hanging on for dear life. We need some rest.”

At the top of the rest-and-recovery list is junior Bonzie Colson, whose twisted ankle with eight minutes left against Duke was the only thing that could slow him down.

Late Saturday night, outside the disappointed Notre Dame locker room in the Barclays Center, Brey called Colson’s 29-point effort against the Blue Devils one of the great performances in ACC championship-game history.

“He’ll be fine, but we have to be careful,” said Brey, suggesting that Colson would be in a walking boot in the short term.

Backup big man Austin Torres also is dealing with a sprained hand.

“My biggest thing is rest and recovery,” Brey said. “I’m really glad it’s spring break and these guys don’t have academic demands this week. They can sleep. Everything is ratcheted down. It’s quiet around here. It’s a good time for us to get our energy back.”

Rex Pflueger admitted the Irish were dragging by the time Duke claimed a 75-69 victory Saturday night, but the gas tank never completely hits E with the Irish.

“I feel like we can never get fully depleted with the confidence on this team,” Pflueger said. “The veterans never let us get too low. They did a great job throughout the season of keeping us level-headed, never getting too high or too low.”

Brey saw his team’s response when their named popped up on the NCAA bracket. It was anything but a resounding cheer.

 “I saw our reaction, which was not one of disappointment in the seed, but like…” said Brey, imitating a slow, apathetic clap.

“That’s how we feel right now. By Tuesday, we’ll be bouncing around pretty good.”

RED-HOT PRINCETON

Since a Dec. 20 loss to Monmouth, Princeton – coached by Mitch Henderson – has won 19 straight, including an overtime victory over Penn and a 12-point win Sunday over Yale to capture the first-ever Ivy League conference tournament.

Now in his sixth season, Henderson’s clean sweep of the Ivy League regular season is his first title with the Tigers.

Princeton rarely was seriously challenged in the regular season, winning at Harvard by one, at home against Harvard by four, at Dartmouth by five and at home against Columbia by two.

“The Princeton offense is all through college basketball and the NBA, and I said to our guys, ‘Now you finally get to guard a Princeton offense run by Princeton,’” Brey said.

“I also told them they’re the best defensive team I’ve had.”

The Irish will have to contend with 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Devin Cannady – a high school teammate of Demetrius Jackson’s at Mishawaka (Ind.) Marian High School – who is second on the Tigers’ squad in scoring at 13.6 per game. He’s shooting a sizzling 42.0 percent from three-point range (79-of-188).

Because of his relationship with Jackson, Cannady is fairly well known by the Irish.

“It’s always cool to play against friends from your basketball playing days,” Beachem said.

More than seeding, location and personal relationships, the Irish are focused on building upon what they’ve done this season and each of the last two NCAA tournament runs.

“I told our guys, ‘You guys play with a pretty darn good edge, but since we couldn’t win (the ACC tournament), let’s have that add to our edge where we’re a little pissed off because we couldn’t get that banner,’” Brey said.

Brey admitted that earlier in his tenure with the Irish, his inability to stay loose negatively impacted his players. He’s learned from the experience and now takes a confident team on the road with six NCAA tournament victories the past two seasons.

“When the lights have been brightest, we’ve been in a rhythm where we love it, embrace it, and deliver,” Brey said. “It’s kind of what we do.

“We deliver when the lights are brightest. It was exhausting but a lot of fun in Brooklyn. Now we’re going to take it up to Buffalo.”


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