Irish head to Clemson looking to rebound from blowout loss at Duke
Zach Klonsinski | Tuesday, February 10, 2015
After being hit with what Irish coach Mike Brey said amounted to a “knockout punch” in a 90-60 loss at No. 4 Duke on Saturday, the No. 10 Irish will again hit the road to take on Clemson tonight in a pivotal ACC battle.
“I think this group will bounce back very quickly,” Brey said after the loss Saturday. “They’ve been through a lot; they’ve been a really tight group. Knowing the kind of guys and the kind of leaders I have, I would think they’re going to rally the troops and have some edge about them.”
On their home floor, the Blue Devils exacted their revenge for their Jan. 28 loss at Purcell Pavilion, racing out to a 50-24 halftime lead. Notre Dame (21-4, 9-3 ACC) never managed to claw closer than 18 points during the second half, but Brey said he saw some positives after his team regrouped at halftime.
“You give the team hope because we’ve been good offensively, and we’ve been able to put numbers up,” Brey said of his halftime message. “We had one little segment in the second half that looked like us, but [Duke] quickly answered.”
Brey conceded defeat early, removing the starters with five minutes left in the game to rest them for tonight’s matchup with Clemson (14-9, 6-5).
“I got our key guys out because we have a game coming Tuesday,” Brey said. “You have to have a short memory, win or lose, in league play.”
Clemson has flown under the radar all season but is starting to assemble a resumé that could see the Tigers in the mix come Selection Sunday. Before a loss at Miami (Fla.) on Sunday, ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi had the Tigers as part of his “Last Four Out.” Brey said that Notre Dame’s opponent tonight has been mostly unnoticed this year.
“We have a big challenge at Clemson,” Brey said. “Clemson is slowly becoming an NCAA tournament team. They’ve been off the radar, but they’re sneaking up on everybody. They’re really good.”
The Tigers have been up and down all year. They suffered early-season losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb and were also blown out at home by North Carolina, 74-50, on Jan. 3. Yet Clemson comes into tonight’s matchup having won five of its last seven games against ACC competition, including a 66-53 win Jan. 17 at home over Syracuse and a 68-57 win at North Carolina State on Jan. 28.
“We’ll move on quickly [from the Duke loss],” Brey said. “I would hope and I would think — given the leaders I have and the leaders of this group — that they’ll bounce back in another tough place to play against a team that can guard us really just as well.”
The Tigers are led by sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame’s 12.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and possess a top-50 scoring defense, allowing opposing offenses just 60.3 points per game. Notre Dame scores 80 points a game on average, good for a spot in the top 10 in scoring nationally.
Brey said Duke deserved a lot of the credit for shutting down the Irish offense Saturday.
“[Duke] really contested and pressured the ball,” Brey said. “They were so good on the ball screen, and that’s so important to us. I thought [Duke freshman forward Jahlil] Okafor was better on the ball screen today than I had seen him all season. We got a little more [ball-screen scoring] in South Bend, but we couldn’t get any of it [Saturday] with [Irish senior guard] Jerian [Grant].”
In his weekly ACC teleconference yesterday, Brey said he saw a strong rebound by his guys in the 36 hours following Saturday’s loss.
“We had a good, spirited, competitive practice [yesterday],” Brey said. “I think for all of them, you’ve just got to play again, because on Saturday you didn’t feel like you really played.
“… Our guys are really smart. They know what we’ve got to get better at, and they know the big picture of the season and moving on quickly from Saturday.”
The Irish will look to do just that tonight against the Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, South Carolina. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.