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Men’s Basketball

Brey rallies squad after losses

| Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Less than two weeks after beginning ACC play with a marquee win over perennial powerhouse Duke, Notre Dame enters today’s matchup with Maryland reeling from consecutive defeats.

Irish junior guard/forward Pat Connaughton drives during Notre Dame's 80-75 win over Delaware on Dec. 7, 2013 at Purcell Pavilion.Zach Llorens

Irish junior guard/forward Pat Connaughton drives during Notre Dame’s 80-75 win over Delaware on Dec. 7, 2013 at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish (10-6, 1-2 ACC) dropped a home game to North Carolina State on Jan. 7 before losing a close one on the road to Georgia Tech on Saturday. The matchup with Maryland (10-7, 2-2) offers a chance for Irish coach Mike Brey’s squad to get back on track with 15 conference games remaining.

“Well we’re pretty darn resilient,” Brey said. “We’ve had our chances. Obviously we won our first one and had our chances in the other two. And I love my group. I love our team. I’m still learning about them. I think we still have a chance to get better because of the new faces we are plugging in with [senior center Garrick] Sherman, [senior guard Eric] Atkins and [junior guard/forward Pat] Connaughton.”

The Terrapins enter the game off back-to-back losses in conference play, as well. Maryland lost to Pittsburgh, 79-59, on Jan. 6 and to Florida State, 85-61, on Sunday. Both losses came on the road, where Maryland has compiled a record of 1-3, compared to its home and neutral-site records, 6-2 and 3-2, respectively. In its only home ACC game this season, Maryland defeated Georgia Tech, 77-61, on Jan. 4.

Maryland is at or below the middle of the conference in most key statistics, with two notable exceptions. The Terrapins’ 3-point field goal percentage of .360 is good enough for fourth in the ACC, as is their rebounding margin of six per game. Notre Dame has shown itself to be vulnerable in each category, ranking second-to-last in 3-point field goal defense — allowing opponents to shoot .375 from long range — and ninth in rebounding margin with a per-game advantage of 4.6 in the category. Both teams seem set to have success shooting the long ball tonight, as Maryland’s league-worst 3-point field goal defense (.381) will go against Notre Dame’s third-ranked 3-point field goal percentage (.377).

Maryland junior guard/forward Dez Wells leads the team in scoring at 14.4 points, while also averaging five rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder Wells is almost exactly the same size as Connaughton, who will take the lead in defending Maryland’s leading scorer. On top of his defensive duties, Connaughton is averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Irish and is coming off a double-double against the Yellow Jackets.

“We ask him to do a lot,” Brey said of the junior captain. “He may be our point guard. He may be guarding a four man. We want him to shoot it. We want him to drive it. We want him to rebound it.

“We’ve had him as the defensive stopper at times. Obviously he’s got to deal with Dez Wells a lot Wednesday night. That’s nothing new for him. We’ve asked him to make big shots. He’s gone and gotten double-digit rebounds. He makes free throws.”

Sharing the backcourt with Connaughton at times, senior guard Eric Atkins will look to continue his recent hot streak. Since the suspension of senior guard Jerian Grant for an academic matter after Notre Dame’s 64-61 loss to Ohio State on Dec. 21, Atkins has averaged 20.8 points per game, bringing his season average up to 14.0.

Despite what have been at times stellar individual performances from Connaughton, Atkins and Sherman, the Irish have been deficient in several areas, Brey said.

“Our shot selection needs to be better and we need to be more patient,” he said. “If we don’t have it in transition, I don’t know that we need to shoot it 15 seconds into the shot clock. We’ve been pretty good in long possessions in the clock, historically, where we move a team around a little bit. I think at times Atkins, Connaughton and Sherman feel they need to jump-start us individually. It’s a fine line because we want them to be aggressive, but we want them to take a great shot. And if that takes a little longer in the shot clock, we’ll live with that.”

Brey also said his team will need to play strong defense late in the game at Maryland and moving forward.

“We got key stops in the Duke game the last 10 minutes, and we have not been able to do that the last two games, especially Saturday in Atlanta,” he said. “We take the lead, have a chance to get a stop and go up two possessions on the road, which you have to do to win a road game. And whether we were in our zone or our man, we just couldn’t get a stop. And I think we have to be better there collectively, digging in and not reacting.”

The Irish square off with the Terrapins on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in College Park, Md., at the Comcast Center.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu 

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About Joseph Monardo

Joseph Monardo is a senior from Atlanta studying International Economics. A participant in the Bologna study abroad program, Joseph likes pickup sports, fantasy baseball and trivia nights with his friends.

Contact Joseph