Notre Dame, Duke set for rematch on Tobacco Road
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, February 6, 2015
After playing in front of one of the largest, rowdiest crowds in Purcell Pavilion history the first time around, the rematch between No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 4 Duke now shifts to the place where the word ‘crazy’ is a term of endearment and cries for revenge will shake the rafters.
Just 11 days after Irish senior guard Jerian Grant and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia delivered the final blows in Notre Dame’s 77-73 win Jan. 28, the two teams meet again Saturday in a crucial regular-season ACC matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium. This time, though, the confines won’t be as friendly for the Irish (21-3, 9-2 ACC).
The Blue Devils (19-3, 6-3) and their ‘Cameron Crazies,’ which were recently ranked the most passionate college basketball fans by NCAA.com, create what Irish coach Mike Brey called the “ultimate road venue” during his press conference Thursday.
“[Our guys will] be really excited to play,” Brey said. “I just don’t want them to get too revved up. I think what happens in that place a lot of times … is teams get a little out of character or play too fast because of the crowd.
“Overall, though, we’ve done a pretty good job in loud atmospheres of staying poised, but I’m just thrilled that this team has put themselves in a position for a marquee game in that environment.”
Up by one with just over a minute remaining in the first meeting between the teams, Grant had the ball knocked loose as the shot clock wound down but snatched it back and hit a floater from the free-throw line to put Notre Dame up three. After the Blue Devils cut the lead back to one on a pair of free throws, Grant drove the lane and threw a pass to Vasturia, who was all alone in front of the Notre Dame bench. The sophomore’s 3-pointer, his only basket of the night, put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds remaining. After a Duke timeout, Grant sealed the victory with an emphatic block on a layup attempt by Blue Devil senior guard Quinn Cook.
Unlike in Notre Dame’s upset last season of then-No. 7 Duke, however, the home team struggled with containing one of the top players in college basketball inside. During last year’s game, the Irish held the eventual second pick in the NBA Draft, forward Jabari Parker, to only seven points.
Just under two weeks ago, Blue Devil freshman center Jahlil Okafor, a leading candidate to be this year’s first pick in the draft, tore up the smaller Irish defense. Okafor nearly finished with a double-double in the first half, recording 11 rebounds and nine points in the opening 20 minutes on his way to finishing with 23 points and 17 boards.
“We just don’t want [Okafor] to get 32 [points] and 22 [rebounds],” Brey said of guarding the Chicago native this time around. “We have not been a team, a program that [double-teams]. We crowd off of who we can crowd off of, which is a little bit limited, the way they shoot the ball.
“Our game plan has got to be similar. We don’t want [Duke] to light us up from the 3-point line, different bodies on Okafor, crowding of the right guy at the right time, mixing in some zone and then, as I said 10 days ago, we’ve got to score that ball to escape there.”
Offense has been Notre Dame’s strength all season. The Irish rank in the top-10 nationally in both points per game (eighth, 80.8) and field-goal percentage (second, 52.1 percent), while also averaging 40.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, good for 14th in the nation.
“Okafor has got to guard my guys,” Brey said with a smirk on his face, flipping the tables after being asked another question about how the Irish will adjust to Okafor. “And if they’re playing man-to-man, he’s going to be on a lot of ball screens.”
Brey also said that for all Okafor’s success inside, Notre Dame found one way to at least slow him down: freshman forward Bonzie Colson.
Using his seven-foot wingspan, the 6-foot-5 Colson hounded Okafor for large chunks of the last game, despite giving up six inches and 44 pounds to his larger adversary.
“His length and his gangliness and unorthodox way of kind of draping himself on a guy really helped us,” Brey said of Colson. “You get fooled playing against him — bigger players get fooled playing against him. Because of his length, he can bother a shot or even block a shot from behind.”
This is Notre Dame’s third trip to “The Triangle,” the area home to North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State, a trio of schools that boast traditionally tough home environments. So far the Irish are 2-0 in the area, beating the Tar Heels, 71-70, on Jan. 5 and the Wolfpack, 81-78, in overtime Jan. 25. A win over Duke to go 3-0 in the Triangle would be a powerful statement for the Irish to make, Brey said.
“I’m looking at the schedule when it came out and I’m thinking, ‘Has anyone had to go through and play all three [Triangle] teams on the road since they did the old round-robin [regular-season format] when there were only eight teams in the ACC?” Brey said. “They’re already talking about us a lot down there on Tobacco Road because of who we’ve beaten, but that would add to it.”
Notre Dame will look to complete its season sweep of Duke and the Triangle at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.