ND staying focused before BC
Alex Carson | Friday, January 22, 2016
After a third consecutive hard-fought win Wednesday against Virginia Tech, Irish head coach Mike Brey said he knows his team can’t take ACC cellar-dweller Boston College’s Saturday visit to Purcell Pavilion lightly.
“I think for us, we can’t fall into the trap because of the score of the first game with Boston College,” Brey said, referencing his team’s 82-54 road win over the Eagles earlier this month. “I think we’re smarter than that and more mature than that, and we also know we’ve got a nice little thing going right now. With the win [Wednesday], we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position in the standings. To get to 5-2 in the [conference] would be huge.”
Despite dropping a couple early league games, Notre Dame (13-5, 4-2 ACC) is one of three teams tied for fourth place in the ACC, and Irish junior guard Steve Vasturia said the upcoming middle section of the team’s 18-game ACC slate will be challenging.
“You’re gonna be tested and it’s going to be a battle pretty much every night in the ACC. … Now we’re on a roll a little bit,” Vasturia said.
In Notre Dame’s previous matchup with Boston College (7-11, 0-5), the only team still winless in league play, Irish junior guard Demetrius Jackson sparked a 21-4 Irish run that created significant separation between the two teams. Vasturia said Jackson is the unquestioned leader of the team, especially late in Notre Dame’s last three wins.
“He does a great job of knowing when to be in attack mode,” Vasturia said. “At the end of the game, he’s our leader, he’s got the ball in his hands the most, so he’s going to attack the basket and really change the momentum of the game.”
Brey said the Mishawaka native and potential lottery pick gets opposing guards’ best shot every night.
“All these guys love coming after Demetrius,” Brey said. “They’ve heard all about him. They’ve heard about his NBA draft stock, they watched him play Saturday, they heard what the Duke coach said about him. … He gets that continually.”
Jackson’s late-game play hasn’t been the only positive for the Irish over the last couple outings — senior forward Zach Auguste controlled the boards against Duke and Virginia Tech, matching a career high with 14 rebounds Saturday before topping it just four days later in a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double Wednesday night against the Hokies.
“I wanted personally to lead by example, to be that senior leader,” Auguste said. “I wanted to get on the glass and make sure I could do everything I can to control the tempo on the backboard.”
Notre Dame’s late-game defense has been aided by the introduction of freshman guard Rex Pflueger, who played 18 minutes Wednesday, to the rotation.
“Rex Pflueger is so key for us,” Brey said. “What an energizing defender and now you have him and Vasturia that are really amazing defenders and position defenders and help defenders. He is a fearless guy, he sticks his nose in there.”
Saturday’s matchup against a former Big East foe might feel more like an old Big East game than an ACC contest for many, with former Irish forward Troy Murphy entering Notre Dame’s ring of honor. Murphy, who spent three seasons at Notre Dame before being selected 14th in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, was a two-time first-team All-American, two-time Big East Player of the Year and led the team to its former conference’s West Division crown in his final year.
“I think it’s gonna be a great day on Saturday,” Brey said. “I’m excited because it’s very fitting that Troy Murphy goes up in our ring of honor. He’s one of our former greats; I don’t know if it was very fair that he had to play for three coaches in three years, a great talent like that, but he did. I was fortunate enough to have him my first year, and it was really neat to look around last year behind the bench in the ACC tournament championship game and see him cheering us on.
“ … I’m thrilled to have him back. I miss him. He made me look pretty good in my first year.”
The Irish and Eagles are set to tip at noon Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.