Brey Challenges His Squad

SOUTH BEND - With a hangover lingering from last Saturday's 16-point loss to Georgetown, Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey threw his players out of Sunday's afternoon practice. His guys got the message, coming back in the evening with an attitude adjustment.

On top of tossing everybody out, Brey challenged his captains that day, and they responded as well. Hanging their heads against Georgetown and displaying poor body language, the veterans came back with a new resolve. The result of Brey's recipe, a huge 61-58 win over No. 21 West Virginia at the Joyce Center, improving the 22nd-ranked Irish to 14-2 on the season, 2-1 in the Big East.

"I think we just needed to be jolted a little bit," Brey stated.

Consider them jolted. Senior co-captain Colin Falls said him, junior co-captain Rob Kurz and senior Russell Carter took Brey's spiel personally. Carter bounced back with a game-high 19 points. Falls chipped in 14, and Kurz had eight points and 11 rebounds, just missing his seventh double-double of the season.

"I think myself, Rob and Russ maybe missed some shots on Saturday and that carried over on both ends," Falls explained. "And when you got young guys, you've got to be able to pick them up with your body language. I didn't think we had the best body language, all the captains didn't, and you saw that in the young guys."

Falls said that wasn't going to happen again, and that was the case at least Tuesday night.

The Irish showed the ability to bounce back from a reality-check defeat that snapped a 12-game winning streak. A little knock to the bravado of a team walking with a swagger.

Not only did the Irish show long-term mental toughness, but when West Virginia cut the double-digit lead to one possession in the final minutes, led by the upperclassmen, the team held tough, made plays down the stretch preserving a second league win, with one-game mental toughness.

"You know what was better, just our attitude and our tone," Brey said, comparing things to Saturday. "I thought, and maybe because it was our first road experience and we got punched a couple of times, our huddles weren't great. I kind of went after our captains a little bit on Sunday, because I didn't think they really set the tone great for us in D.C. I thought they were fabulous for us tonight because it got tough at times and they kept everybody together."

It was easier for the Irish players to stay together. In building a 10-point halftime lead, the Irish shot 50 percent in the first half. Falls made his first three 3-point shots, and Carter was getting a dunk every time you looked up.

West Virginia got the lead down to five, but a Luke Harangody lay-in and Falls' fourth and final trey of the game pushed the lead back out to 55-45 with five minutes to go.

When all that was needed was for the fat lady to start singing, the Mountaineers went on another run, getting within two points, with just under two minutes to go, and staying close the rest of the way. The Irish continued to show the moxie missing from Saturday's defeat, and continued to play tough defense until the final horn.

So following a big win, what do the Irish players do? They sulk again.

"It's funny, you look in the locker room and some of the guys have their heads down because we didn't think we played well," Falls explained. "Zach (Hillesland) made the point, we didn't get our second win until mid-February last year. To just get a league win and be sitting 2-1 is a really big thing for us right now."

Brey had to get on his guys for the second time in three days.

"I'm not sure if they thought they should've won by 15 or something like that," he said. "I know they have real high expectations and that's a good thing. But I try to tell them, I said when you're in league play now, we're going to take em anyway we can get them."

Now they know, but apparently some of the young guys really were expecting their 12th double-digit victory of the season.

"I think from the standpoint we were up 10, 14 (points) at the beginning of the second half and we kind of let them back in it," Falls said. "We thought we probably wanted to extend our lead more. But I think we're young and we don't realize how this league is, and we haven't played teams of the caliber of West Virginia in the non-conference for the most part. Teams are going to start coming back at us and make runs, and we just have to be steady, take care of the ball and make plays down the stretch.

That's what the Irish did, steadying a ship that could've started sinking after the Georgetown loss and the indefinite suspension of starting point guard Kyle McAlarney. How's that for proving a team's mettle?

"If you would've told me at Christmas Break, you're going to be missing your point guard and you're going to be 2-1 after those, I would've signed up for that," Brey said. "We need a little bit of rest before we get back to practice Thursday."

Doubtful he'll have to throw his team out again.


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