Noter Dame used its newfound "Burn" offense to shorten the game, lengthen possessions, and defeat their closest NCAA Tournament competitor, the Connecticut Huskies last night, 58-50 at the Purcell Pavilion.
Wednesday night's deliberate approach was by design and, according to Irish head coach Mike Brey, in the works prior to Notre Dame's season-changing double-overtime loss at Louisville. It materialized in the second half of consecutive wins vs. Pittsburgh and Georgetown then dominated the storyline for 40 minutes of grinding basketball as the methodical Irish simply wore down the visiting Huskies in front of 9,149 restless fans.
"It's an adjustment to survive," Brey said of the halting approach to offense. "(Tonight) we kept it to ‘one-and-done.' They weren't able to play volleyball on the backboard," he noted of the Huskies massive front line. "Of course, when they don't have as many possessions to (go after) offensive rebounds, that helps us. We didn't have to block out as much because they didn't get to shoot it as much."
Gone are the freewheeling, three-point bombing Irish of Mike Brey's first nine and three-quarter seasons. The team-wide perimeter green light has been replaced by the Normal Dale approach: a minimum of five passes before every shot. In ND's case, that number rose to nine and 12 passes around the horn on a regular basis.
The Hickory Huskers would be proud.
"We did a pretty good job of fighting (the urge) to play too fast when our crowd got going. In the second half we were fabulously disciplined in our tempo," Brey stated.
Senior Night HeroIt's worth noting that Notre Dame's disciplined approach would have failed miserably Wednesday if not for the efforts of senior point guard Tory Jackson.
The team's leader, voice, and toughest player scored 22 points vs. a pair of defensive guards – Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson – that hounded the pride of Saginaw from the outset. Walker with a pair of lightning quick feet, Dyson (a first-team All Big East defender) with brute force.
"I had a young guy guarding me," Jackson began of his initial battle with Walker. "He's a great player. I've never seen a player change direction so quickly with the ball. I felt like I had to use my power to drive on him, but also pull-up (for jump shots) and it worked."
20 of Jackson's game-high 22 occurred after the halftime break.
Notre Dame scored just 17 points in the first half, its lowest total ever vs. Big East competition.
"Loved it," Brey answered proudly of the plodding pace.
More important, the 50 points scored by the Huskies was the lowest total surrendered by the Irish this season.
"I think they only had about two transition buckets," Jackson noted post-game.
Carleton Scott augmented Jackson's effort with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Tim Abromaitis added 10 points but struggled throughout the evening, shooting just 4-12 from the floor and failing to hit a three-point shot for the first game this season.
Kemba Walker led the visitors with 15 points and six rebounds while center Gavin Edwards added 10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
UConn's leading scorer, powerful shooting guard Jerome Dyson, missed 12 of 14 shots en route to a 10-point/5-turnover evening. Dyson began the game assigned to Hansbrough and his athleticism and defensive effort did not go unnoticed.
"I think he has the quickest burst (first step) I've ever guarded," Hansbrough said of Dyson. "I just wanted to contain him a little bit tonight.
"He's a heck of a player and a heck of a defender. You have to give credit to him. Every shot I had, he was right there and I kind of had to rush it."
Hansbrough was held to six points but did not hit a shot on eight attempts.
Notre Dame concludes its regular season in Milwaukee on Saturday with a matchup vs. red-hot Marquette (11-5 in conference including nine wins in their last 10 Big East games).
IrishEyes will publish its regular player-by-player recap and offer more on the team's new direction on Thursday morning.