Notre Dame Notebook: Irish ready for ACC Tournament
Mike Monaco | Sunday, March 9, 2014
With an ACC Tournament run needed, it’s been a simpler, shorter-term message from Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“Let’s get one,” has been Brey’s theme as the Irish prepare for the ACC Tournament, which begins when Notre Dame squares off with Wake Forest on Wednesday afternoon.
The Irish (15-16, 6-12 ACC) check in as the No. 13 seed, while the Demon Deacons (16-15, 6-12) are the No. 12 seed.
“It’s kind of like a new season,” Irish freshman guard Steve Vasturia said Sunday. “That’s kind of the approach we’re taking. Take it one game at a time, because that’s all that you’ve got. It’s win or go home here. So we’re just gonna try to focus on our first game and try to get a win.”
Despite the here-and-now mentality of focusing on Wake Forest, Brey and his players espoused a sense of optimism about the prospects of making a run in Greensboro, N.C.
Notre Dame has lost its 16 games by an average of 7.5 points. The Irish have lost seven games by five points or fewer.
“A lot of these games come down to one, two possessions,” Irish senior point guard Eric Atkins said. “I think we’re a scary team to play in this tournament because no one has really easily beaten us, other than Virginia. Everybody else it’s gone down to the wire, just one, two possessions. If we could turn that around, they’re wins for us. Hopefully we can do that in Greensboro.”
Brey has been reiterating to his team just how close they’ve been at times, laying it out to the Irish on Tuesday with various charts and graphics. One of Brey’s examples was with just three more stops on the defensive end, Notre Dame’s opponent field-goal percentage would drop from 46 percent to 40. Brey said the team’s concentration has been on defense since the team returned to practice on Friday.
“That’s really where we have to better, on that end of the floor,” he said. “For us to win a game in the ACC Tournament, that end of the floor has got to be better for us.
“That’s how fragile it is on that end of the floor. I think again that has to be our key emphasis moving South.”
As Brey joked Sunday, there’s “never a dull moment” on the injury front with this year’s team.
The newest addition to the injury report is graduate student forward Tom Knight, who twisted his ankle in practice recently and did not practice Sunday. Brey said he expects Knight to be fine by Tuesday.
Senior center Garrick Sherman, who chipped his right pinkie finger Feb. 11 against Clemson and did not play Monday against North Carolina, said the time off has helped him and he’ll “definitely” play Wednesday.
“The strength in it [is better], the ability to move is a lot better,” Sherman said.
Junior forward Pat Connaughton, who battled through a sprained ankle against the Tar Heels, playing 37 minutes, said his ankle “is getting there.”
Brey said Connaughton still has not gone live in practice but probably would Monday.
“It’s a lot better than it was Monday, and it’s a whole lot better than it was Tuesday,” Connaughton said. “Not throbbing. Just a little swelling that I need to get out of it. Other than that, I’ll be all set.”
Rematch with Wake Forest
Notre Dame lost 65-58 to the Demon Deacons on Jan. 25 in Winston Salem, N.C. The Irish led 54-53 with 2:24 remaining but Wake Forest closed the game on a 12-4 run en route to the victory.
“We had two possessions defensively where we had a chance to get key stops again,” Brey said. “A key stop, and a key defensive rebound or a key loose ball, we couldn’t get.”
Connaughton, who said it’s a matter of doing the little things the rest of the way, said those were exactly the plays Notre Dame didn’t make in that loss.
“It was just a game we kind of let go,” he said. “We were there, it was a close game, and they made some of the toughness plays we didn’t make.”
Atkins said the intensity will need to be there in Greensboro.
“It first starts with our intensity,” he said. “We have to come out and be ready to play every single game right from the beginning. I don’t think coming out flat in this tournament is going to do us any good. We’re going to have to be ready to play from the jump and play defense every single game.”
The Irish tip off against the Demon Deacons at 1 p.m. on Wednesday at the Greensboro Coliseum.