Squad hits road for first time
Brian Hartnett | Thursday, November 20, 2014
After winning its first three games of the season by comfortable margins in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame will take its first gamble of the season this weekend, fittingly, in a casino.
The Irish (3-0) will conclude the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament by traveling to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, to face Massachusetts on Saturday and Providence on Sunday.Irish head coach Mike Brey said this weekend’s games would address several questions currently facing Notre Dame.
“This is so great for us, this weekend, because it’s going to be a really hard challenge for us,” Brey said Wednesday after Notre Dame’s 104-67 victory over Coppin State. “Can we defend away from [Purcell Pavilion]? Can we do it if our offense isn’t going well, even on the road? We’re going to be really playing road games — two New England teams are going to have, I expect, good crowds.
“… Can we stay in character offensively? Can we handle pressure? Both teams press us — can we defensive rebound?”
The Irish have displayed their ability to do many of these things in their opening three games, as the team has averaged more than 92 points per game and allowed just 53 points per game. Notre Dame’s victories, however, have come against three teams that have combined to win one game entering Thursday night.
The team’s matchups this weekend will come against two teams that are currently undefeated and are both coming off NCAA tournament appearances.
“Both games — obviously, one [team] is a Big East team, the other one is Big East-like — they are not shooting a lot, but they are driving at your lane and chasing down missed shots,” Brey said. “… I think it’s a great test for our toughness in the paint.”
The Irish will have their toughness tested Saturday, when they square off against UMass (3-0). The Minutemen earned a No. 6 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament, in which they lost to No. 11 seed Tennessee in the second round. Massachusetts lost three starters in the offseason, but the Minutemen have benefitted from the return of starters senior center Cady Lalanne and redshirt junior guard Derrick Gordon, who have averaged 16.3 and 14.7 points per game, respectively.
Notre Dame will then turn around the following day to face Providence (2-0). The Friars won the Big East tournament and earned a No. 11 seed in the most recent NCAA tournament, where they fell to No. 6 seed North Carolina, 79-77, in the second round.
Providence likewise returns two starters in senior forward LaDontae Henton and junior forward Tyler Harris, who have averaged 17 and 16.5 points per game, respectively.
Brey said the matchup with Providence will harken back to the two programs’ days in the Big East. Notre Dame played in the Big East from 1995 to 2013.
“This is the old-fashioned Big East game where there are battles in the paint for loose balls,” Brey said. “… How are we going to be there? I’m really intrigued to see it.”
Brey said rebounding will be one key area to watch during the weekend’s games. The Irish have averaged 38.7 rebounds per game and hold a rebounding margin of greater than 10. UMass and Providence both average more rebounds per game, though only Providence has a larger rebounding margin than Notre Dame.
“I still think we have to come back to rebounding the basketball and being able to defensive rebound as a unit,” Brey said. “We just can’t rely on [senior guard/forward] Pat [Connaughton]. … We’re going to need some help.”
Junior forward Zach Auguste, who is second on the team with an average of six rebounds per game, said the Irish need to continue doing the fundamentals that have made them successful over the first three games.
“We just gotta emphasize sticking together,” he said Wednesday. “I think we gotta come out the gate with the pedal to the floor. I think we just gotta stay together, communicate and just play hard. I think if we just keep doing what we’re doing, I think we should be fine.”
Notre Dame faces UMass at 12 p.m. Saturday and Providence at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Both games will be at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.