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Turning the Corner

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Heading into last year’s court-storming upset of then-No. 1 Syracuse, Notre Dame was 3-3 in conference play and 11-8 overall. The Irish won that game and the next eight and closed out the Big East season on a 9-2 tear.

This season, the No. 21 Irish were 4-4 in their previous eight games before downing then-No. 11 Louisville on Saturday. Notre Dame (19-5, 7-4 Big East) is hoping the thrilling victory can spark a hot streak, just as the Syracuse win did last year.

“I think it could [be a turning point],” Irish senior forward Jack Cooley said after the 104-101 win. “This was a very, very big win. And if you think last year, the only game we had that was this hyped was the Syracuse game. Coach [Mike] Brey said that. And that turned into a turning point.

“I honestly think that we can rattle off the rest of them. I mean I haven’t looked at a game on our schedule – except for maybe [Louisville] at home [in Louisville, Ky.], and that’s going to be a tough one. But we know we can play well against them – that might be out of our reach. I think that we’re a great team and just the way we play together is just phenomenal.”

First up for the Irish is DePaul on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion. The Blue Demons (10-13, 1-9) took Notre Dame to overtime Feb. 2 before the Irish put DePaul away 79-71 in the extra time.

Coming off a five-overtime marathon Saturday – the longest game in Notre Dame history – the Irish have been focused on recharging heading into Wednesday’s tilt.

Irish junior guard Eric Atkins played 60 minutes against the Cardinals and said after the game that the key to preparing for the Blue Demons is to refuel.

“I think we’re all going to get some sleep tonight,” Atkins said in the early hours of Sunday morning. “So just resting throughout the day and then probably take it easy on Monday and then get things revved up Tuesday and then get ready for DePaul. Last year they played us here really tough, so we have to be ready for another good game.”

Last season at Purcell Pavilion, the Blue Demons led the Irish 68-65 with less than eight minutes remaining. Notre Dame, however, took control late and eventually defeated DePaul 84-76.

The Blue Demons have lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Despite their recent struggles, Irish senior center Garrick Sherman said Notre Dame needs to employ a game-by-game approach during this difficult homestretch of the regular season.

With seven games remaining, the Irish are tied for fourth in the Big East, a game-and-a-half back of conference-leading Syracuse and a half game back of fourth-place Pittsburgh.

“We’re just trying to get one win at a time,” Sherman said. “Just one game at a time right now. This is the grind part of the season. We don’t have time to dwell on [the Louisville win].”

Irish senior forward Tom Knight, junior guard Jerian Grant and Cooley all fouled out against the Cardinals, forcing Brey to reach deeper down his bench. Sherman played 22 minutes and propelled the Irish in overtime with 17 points and six rebounds after not playing a minute in regulation. In the three games before Louisville, Sherman had played a combined three minutes.

Freshman forwards Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste logged 50 and 36 minutes respectively against the Cardinals. Auguste provided eight points and three rebounds before fouling out in the waning moments of the game.

“The way Zach went in there … he’s been working so hard on his game that it’s just so impressive to see him go out there and to see all his work he’s put in come to fruition in overtime,” Cooley said. “To see [Biedscheid and Auguste] step up the way they did was just incredible. … To have the depth that we have is incredible.”

The Irish square off with the Blue Demons on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu