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Connaughton guides Irish during hot streak

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, March 15, 2013

NEW YORK – Never before had Pat Connaughton led the Irish in scoring in back-to-back games. So it comes straight out of left field that he has done it on the biggest stage of them all.

Connaughton, a two-sport athlete, is listed as a starting pitcher on Notre Dame’s baseball team, but closer seems to be the more fitting role.

“It all comes down to the postseason, it all comes down to winning,” the sophomore forward said. “Bottom line is you’re going to be remembered for being a winner. At the end of the day, that’s something I look forward the most to is to help the team win.”

Connaughton has shot 12-for-18 (66.7 percent) from beyond the arc in the past two days for a combined 39 points (21 against Rutgers, 18 against Marquette). The sharpshooter tied a Big East tournament record with 12 total 3-pointers in back-to-back games and is one point behind Syracuse junior James Southerland for the Big East tournament lead.

Against Marquette, Connaughton was the Irish ace, hitting 6-of-10 3-pointers. The rest of the team: 1-of-10.

“I didn’t really change anything. The coaches and I have worked on fine-tuning the little things and working on my shot, but I think it’s just a matter of shooting and taking open shots instead of passing them up.”

The Arlington, Mass., native said the difference is akin to one of the first lessons of Pitching 101: have a short memory and focus on the next pitch.

“If I took one shot and missed it, I was looking more at negatives than the positives. That’s something I had never really done before so it’s something I had to fight when it started,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve been trying to work on toward the end of the season and into the postseason.”

As a result, the Irish are headed to the Big East semifinal for the fourth consecutive season at Madison Square Garden, a place notorious for transforming shooters into headcases. For Connaughton, playing at the Garden is a dream come true. To make a run like he has so far is extra sugar on the cherry on top.

“It’s something that every kid dreams of. I’m just taking it upon myself to take it in because not every kid gets a chance to do this,” he said. “I’ve played in the Garden four times before this so if I can’t shoot in it by now, there’s a problem with my jumper.”

With a hefty deficit and only four points in the first nine minutes of the game against Marquette, the Irish found something in Connaughton other than his three-ball: a resurgent, cool leader.

“There’s been a different kind of poise about us than the regular season,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “There really was no panic. … As a matter of fact, in the huddles when it was 17 4, Connaughton kept saying, ‘It’s just like the Pitt game.'”

On Feb. 18 following a lackadaisical loss to Providence, the Irish trailed No. 22 Pittsburgh, 19-3, after missing 18 of their first 19 shots. Although Connaughton only had seven points against the Panthers, the experience he grasped came back around full-circle.

“It was actually a good thing that we had been there before at Pitt and been able to fight back from it,” Connaughton said. “That’s really why we had so much confidence coming out of the huddles and going down towards halftime.

“It’s something we just wanted to cut into the lead piece-by-piece. Coach said we’re not going to tie this thing right away. It’s going to be a process, and that’s something that we kind of figured out how to do, and that’s what we got done by halftime.”

As a cause of the recent success, Connaughton found one specific, tangible difference in his game.

“The jerseys. We’re 2-0 in the exotic jerseys,” he said. “[…]Love them. We’re going to keep winning. We’ve got to love them.”

Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]