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Men’s Basketball: Team to face Friars on the road

Mike Monaco | Friday, February 15, 2013

After slogging through six overtime periods in their last two wins, the No. 21 Irish aim for their third consecutive win Saturday when they face Providence in Providence, R.I.

Notre Dame (20-5, 8-4 Big East) has won five of its last six, including its two recent overtime affairs. The Irish outlasted Louisville 104-101 on Saturday in five overtimes, the longest game in Notre Dame history. Then on Wednesday night the Irish hung on to edge DePaul 82-78 in just five extra minutes.

Notre Dame sits tied with Pittsburgh for fourth in the conference, behind a trio of teams, Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette, tied for first place at 8-3. The Irish now head east to square off with the Friars (13-11, 5-7 Big East) with the opportunity to keep ascending the standings. 

Irish coach Mike Brey said after the win over DePaul he is solely focused on grinding out victories in a challenging league.

“I’m in that mode all the time in the Big East: survive and advance,” Brey said. “Somebody said, ‘Well, are you going to rest [sophomore guard/forward Pat] Connaughton [on] Wednesday and save him for the weekend?’ I said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I need all my guys in this league.’ … We need all hands on deck, so everything is survive and advance. That’s why we were burning one time. 

“We’ll do everything we need to do to get a league win. I don’t care if it’s against a team that’s 8-2 or 2-8. Just do what you’ve got to do to get a league win.”

Connaughton started and played 30 minutes after injuring his ankle against the Cardinals on Saturday. Notre Dame has played 110 minutes and six overtimes in the span of a week.

“He was pretty sore the last two days, but I knew he would play when I saw him Monday,” Brey said of Connaughton. “There’s not a tougher athlete at this school. He’s a tough dude, so he will not have to sweat again until layup lines at Providence. We’ll just rest him until then, and some other guys. We’re back to needing some rest here almost for two days.”

Providence, meanwhile, has won three straight games. The Friars eliminated an 11-point halftime deficit and defeated South Florida 76-66 on Wednesday night as junior forward Kadeem Batts poured in 24 points. Providence also downed Cincinnati 54-50 on Feb. 6 behind 25 points and nine rebounds from Batts.

Junior guard Bryce Cotton leads the Friars in scoring, averaging 20.5 points per game. Cotton buried a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining to beat Villanova 55-52 on Feb. 3.

Irish junior guard Eric Atkins said it’s important to not look past the Friars even though No. 16 Pittsburgh lurks for a pivotal Big East matchup on Monday night.

“This is a huge stretch for us, especially with us starting to move up in the standings,” Atkins said Wednesday. “I think that we are mainly focused on just trying to get another league win on Saturday. We will think about Monday when it comes. Providence is a good team, especially when you play them at home.”

The Friars are 9-4 at home this season. The last time Notre Dame went on the road to face Providence was 2011, when the then-No. 9 Irish eked out a 94-93 victory over a Friars team that entered the game at 13-14. Providence senior guard MarShon Brooks set a Big East record with 52 points in the losing effort.

The Irish lead the all-time series against Providence with a 16-9 record. Though the Friars have not beaten Notre Dame since 2004, Brey said he expects a challenge.

“Providence is just really a good basketball team,” Brey said. “I caught the second half last night against South Florida and they just exploded down there in Tampa. They have beaten good people all year. … So we’re going to be challenged against a very good team again on Saturday.”

Notre Dame tips off against the Friars on Saturday at noon at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]