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Men’s Basketball: No. 22 Irish to battle Brown after layoff

Mike Monaco | Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nine days after downing then-No. 8 Kentucky, the No. 22 Irish return to action when they take on Brown on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame (7-1) defeated the Wildcats 64-50 on Nov. 29 to stretch its winning streak to five games. The eight days in between games will be the second-longest idle stretch of the season for the Irish. And after playing its fourth game in nine days against Kentucky, Irish coach Mike Brey said his team welcomed the break and he doesn’t believe there will be any negative effects.

“If we were younger, I’d be concerned about that,” Brey said of the layoff. “But because of the experience of this group, I think, number one, getting some rest mentally and physically was very much key because we had a real tough stretch. And we do have some guys that play long minutes for us and [graduate student guard Scott] Martin is always going to have some issues with that knee that we’ve got to rest it.”

Brey also said the Irish players have had a chance to focus on their classes with finals week looming.

“The other thing … what I’ve found is we’ve really been able to concentrate academically,” Brey said. “We’ve done some things with study hall because the last week of classes sometimes is more important than the exam week next week. And so basketball up until [Wednesday's] practice, has kind of been a back-burner issue since the Kentucky game.”

When the Irish finally do take to the hardwood again, they will go up against a Brown squad coming off a 63-50 loss to New Hampshire on Saturday. Through seven games, the Bears (3-4) are shooting just 31.6 percent from three-point range and 40.3 percent from the field.

Notre Dame’s defense, meanwhile, has held opponents to 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 31.0 percent on threes.
The Irish defensive unit will be tasked with shutting down a pair of Chicago-area natives returning to the Midwest for the first time this season. Senior guard Matt Sullivan, from Wilmette, Ill., and junior guard Sean McGonagill, from Brookfield, Ill., lead the Bears with 15.7 points and 14.9 points per game, respectively. Brey, who returned late Tuesday night from a recruiting trip, said though the Irish have yet to fully dissect the Bears, he knows their guards can score.

“I’ve been doing recruiting stuff and we’ll get some film, we’ll watch them,” Brey said of Brown. “It looks like their guards – I glanced at the stats coming back from a recruiting trip – are scoring the ball for them. We’ll digest them. [Wednesday and Thursday] will be ‘us’ practices, and then Friday is a good prep day [for Brown].”

In the Irish backcourt, junior guard Eric Atkins will be looking to build on last week’s performance for which he was named to the Big East Weekly Honor Roll. The tri-captain averaged 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in wins against Chicago State and the Wildcats. Against Kentucky, Atkins played 38 minutes and propelled the Irish with 13 first-half points.

“When he’s playing like that, it kind of gives us another element offensively, especially to start the game,” Brey said. “I think Eric in the past has started a game being his efficient self, running the team, not turning it over, trying to get other guys going and then if we stall, he kind of says, ‘Okay, I need to do something.’ I kind of like that he is looking for his stuff as well as getting people involved to start the game. I think that’s something to build on last week in the Kentucky game for him to hone his offense.”

Even after the signature win against Kentucky, Brey said he doesn’t believe the Irish have reached their potential.

“Well I don’t know about [being] a finished product because I still think with [freshman forward] Cameron [Biedscheid] and [senior center Garrick] Sherman, they’re going to still be developing maybe even through January as far as what they give us. I do feel we are finding our identity. We are still in the process of finding our identity, and I think up until Dec. 21 [the final nonconference game against Niagara] is a key time for us to keep doing that.”

The Irish resume the road to improvement when they battle Brown on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu