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Men’s Basketball

Irish aim to break losing streak

| Friday, January 17, 2014

Mired in a three-game losing skid, Notre Dame looks for its first win in more than two weeks when it hosts Virginia Tech on Sunday night at Purcell Pavilion.

Pat Connaughton!Zach Llorens

Junior forward Pat Connaughton defends the ball against Delaware on Dec. 7, 2013. Notre Dame won 80-75, and Connaughton had a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Little has gone right for the Irish (10-7, 1-3 ACC) since their 79-77 upset of then-No.7 Duke on Jan. 4. They lost at home to North Carolina State on Jan. 7. Four days later, in its first road ACC contest, Notre Dame fell to Georgia Tech. And on Wednesday, Maryland thoroughly outplayed the Irish in the second half en route to the 74-66 Terrapin win.

Even the marquee win over the Blue Devils has lost some of its luster, at least for the time being, as Duke dropped to No. 23 in this week’s AP poll.

“We’re struggling a little bit right now,” Irish coach Mike Brey told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “We need to get back into a practice rhythm and see if we can win a league game Sunday night.”

Notre Dame committed a season-high of 17 turnovers and was outrebounded 40-31 — including a 20-11 deficit on the offensive glass — by the Terrapins on Wednesday. The nine-board rebounding differential was Notre Dame’s second-largest deficit this season, and the Irish hadn’t surrendered 20 offensive rebounds to their opponent since the five-overtime slugfest with Louisville on Feb. 9, 2013.

“You’re just not going to win a game giving up 20 offensive rebounds and turning the ball over 17 times,” Brey said. “Disappointing for us.”

Fourteen of Maryland’s offensive rebounds came after halftime, as the Irish continued a recent trend of sluggish second-half starts. Notre Dame led by nine at the break but didn’t score its first bucket until the 13:14 mark of the second half. Against Georgia Tech, the Irish only tallied one point for the first five-plus minutes of the second half, and Notre Dame allowed North Carolina State to extend a three-point halftime lead to nine in the first four minutes of the second half.

“It’s a hard thing to get over psychologically,” Brey said Wednesday of the slow second halves. “The tip-ins during that flurry break your back, and then you’re digging out of a hole.”

The Irish will try to dig out of their three-game slide when they host the Hokies (8-8, 1-3), who are stuck in their own three-game losing streak. Virginia Tech, which lost 56-49 to Clemson on Wednesday, will play its first road game since Dec. 21.

Senior forward Jarell Eddie leads the Hokies in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Eddie, who is the only senior on the young Virginia Tech squad led by second-year head coach James Johnson, has only averaged 6.3 points during the three-game stretch.

At halftime of Sunday’s contest, former Irish coach Digger Phelps will be inducted into the Notre Dame Basketball Ring of Honor. Phelps’s induction comes on the 40th anniversary of Notre Dame’s historic victory over UCLA in 1974 — an upset that ended the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak, a record that still stands today.

Phelps will become the first coach and the sixth person overall — joining Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Skylar Diggins, Luke Harangody and Ruth Riley — to join the Ring of Honor.

Phelps coached the Irish from 1971-72 through 1990-91, compiled a record of 393-197 and advanced to 14 NCAA tournaments.

More than two dozen of Phelps’ former players at Notre Dame will be on campus for the game. Phelps’ banner will be unveiled in the rafters during halftime.

From there, after honoring the legendary former coach, the Irish will attempt to squash their second-half struggles and earn their second conference win.

“It is one game at a time,” senior center Garrick Sherman told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “We have to focus on Sunday and get a win against Virginia Tech. That is all you can do. We have to try and get better until then.”

Notre Dame tips off against the Hokies on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike