Taking the next step
Matt Lozar | Wednesday, December 10, 2003
First it was winning the Big East and getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Then coach Mike Brey had to keep his team winning double digit games in conference and staying a constant on Selection Sunday.
Last year, the goal was making it to the second weekend of March Madness and advancing to the Sweet 16.
Now, on the heels of a blowout loss to Marquette and a stunning defeat against Central Michigan, the goal is simply to beat Indiana tonight at the Joyce Center.
“I think it’s a big game in that their program has really dominated us,” Brey said. “If you look at the series, and I would compare it a little bit to the Illinois game last year in the NCAA Tournament, in that, it was a great win for our program. Not only was that a nice day for us, but you are trying to establish back some credibility with our basketball program, and we’ve been pretty darn consistent.
“Indiana basketball, the moniker, means something, so it would be a good win.”
Since Digger Phelps became Notre Dame’s coach for the 1971-72 season, the Hoosiers have won 23 of the 29 meetings between these two schools. In recent years, it’s been worse.
Indiana has won 12 of the past 13 games, including the last seven straight. That seven-game winning streak is the longest in series history.
Combine those numbers with the disappointment still eating at the team since its shocking loss to Central Michigan Saturday, and tonight’s game means a lot.
“You can just tell the mood that everybody’s been in, how business-like we’ve been all week, I think everybody is really focused and determined to get this win [tonight],” Notre Dame guard Torrian Jones said. “Anybody can say they put losses behind them, but when you lose games like that, especially games down to the wire and a game you could have won, it sticks in your mind and makes you come out with that much more fire the next game.
“It’s a combination of that and trying to get a big step forward for the program.”
With Jones and center Tom Timmermans not dressed due to injuries Saturday night, Brey only used seven players against the Chippewas, and the team struggled all night. Up 64-59 with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Irish had a chance to close it out but missed two free throws down the stretch. Central Michigan hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer and walked out of the Joyce Center with a one-point win.
That game, and the 71-58 loss at Marquette Dec. 1, has the Irish at 2-2 and focused on turning things around tonight to avoid falling under the .500 mark since they were 4-5 on Dec. 11, 1999.
“Anytime you lose and you are disappointed, and for a week now, our guys have been on edge a little bit,” Brey said. “The natural thing is there is a little more attention to detail. We are going to have to do that all season long, whether we’ve lost one or won a couple. But that’s still youth, learning how to be businesslike on a daily basis.”
Seven straight losses to the Hoosiers, a two-game losing streak and the conference schedule starting three weeks from tonight each impress upon Jones and the Irish they need a win against Indiana to get this season headed back in the right direction.
“It’s definitely a big game for us. Not only are we coming in on a two-game losing streak, we want to snap that and get momentum going for the rest of the season,” Jones said. “We had a good practice [Monday] and we are coming out today to have another good one. We met on Sunday, addressed a couple of things, talked about some things.
“I think we are on the right path to get this one [tonight], be focused for 40 minutes and play Notre Dame basketball.”