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Men’s Basketball: Righting the ship

Mike Monaco | Friday, February 1, 2013


Reinvented and reinvigorated, the Irish look to direct the momentum from their current two-game win streak toward Saturday’s matchup with DePaul in Rosemont, Ill.

After losing three of four games and losing graduate student guard Scott Martin to injury, Notre Dame (17-4, 5-3 Big East) has righted the ship with an influx of newfound energy. In his first start of the season, senior forward Tom Knight powered the Irish with a career-high 17 points in a 73-65 victory against South Florida on Saturday and freshman forward Cam Biedscheid busted out of his slump Wednesday by scoring a career-high 18 points to help top Villanova 65-60.

The Irish, who returned the same five starters from last year’s NCAA tournament squad, have been forced to adjust since Martin’s knee injury. Irish coach Mike Brey said Notre Dame has adjusted and is simply looking to get a win against the Blue Demons (10-10, 1-6), who have lost five consecutive games and seven of their last eight.

“You go into the season thinking you’re going to be something and stuff happens and you’ve got to kind of shift gears and I kind of like where we’re at right now,” Brey said after Wednesday’s win. “I don’t know who we’ll be in two weeks but we’ll do what we’ve got to do to win a league game.”

In addition to Knight’s elevated role and Biedscheid’s slump-busting resurgence, freshman forward Zach Auguste provided crucial minutes against the Wildcats on Wednesday. Auguste scored four points in six minutes off the bench and mixed up the rotation for Notre Dame.

“I talked about sometimes how your rotation can get stale,” Brey said. “I think it’s fair to say we were a little stale with our rotation. … Those [new] guys give us life and juice. It’s energized the guys that are playing heavy minutes having those guys come in, having a new guy to kind of help.”

Brey said he is especially pleased with the fresh physicality Knight and Cooley provide when playing together. Cooley has hauled in 30 rebounds in the last two games while Knight has played a more bruising post game than did the perimeter-oriented Martin.

“We’re playing two big guys,” Brey said. “Only a couple times [Wednesday] did we have one big in. … We’re playing two big guys and those two big guys have got to screen and pound away and get on the board. I think the tone that the two of them set – Jack has a sidekick now pounding away – it makes the rest of our team more physical.”

The Irish will look for more of that physicality Saturday when they go up against DePaul’s 6-foot-8 junior forward Cleveland Melvin, who leads the Blue Demons in scoring and rebounding with 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Melvin scored 16 points against the Irish last season in a losing effort.

Junior guard Brandon Young is tied with Melvin in scoring at 16.7 points per game. Young leads DePaul in Big East play with nearly 18 points per contest. The Baltimore native scored a game-high 21 points in DePaul’s 79-74 overtime loss to St. John’s on Wednesday.

The Irish will turn to a pair of their own Maryland guards to square off with Young on Saturday. Junior Eric Atkins ranks third in the Big East with 6.3 assists per game while fellow junior Jerian Grant ranks sixth with 5.6 helpers per contest. 

Recently, Atkins and Grant have been part of an Irish effort to play more aggressively on both ends of the court.

“We pressured the ball a little bit more [Wednesday] instead of our three-point line defense,” Brey said. “We got out and we contested some. We trapped some ball screens, which is an aggressive thing. Everything is kind of attacking and I think our guys are really feeling good about that and if we made a mistake and it’s something attacking and playing really hard we’ll live with it.”

Despite the recent energy and optimism, Cooley said the Irish have not proved anything with their recent two-game stretch.

“It’s really good to keep winning, but we’ve got to keep doing it,” Cooley said after beating Villanova. “We can’t look at it that we’re on a streak or that we’ve won any games. We just have got to keep thinking we’ve only got five wins and we’re in the mix. 

“We’re not in the lead, so we need to keep fighting and scrapping to make our way in this league.”

The Irish take on the Blue Demons on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]