Irish host top-ranked Tar Heels in need of another signature win
Brian Plamondon | Friday, February 5, 2016
Looking to bounce back from losing two of its last three games, Notre Dame welcomes No. 1 North Carolina to Purcell Pavilion on Saturday night.
Notre Dame (15-7, 6-4 ACC) is coming off a 79-70 loss on the road to Miami on Wednesday and thus will be trying to avoid its first back-to-back losses since March 2014. Irish head coach Mike Brey said he pinpointed a few thing from the Miami loss he hopes the Irish can fix come Saturday.
“I think defensively getting beat off the dribble was the thing I got after them about at halftime and came back and addressed it in a calmer mode after the game,” Brey said. “Penetration really hurt us, sitting down in a stance. Those are things that we must be better at.”
Junior guard Demetrius Jackson’s performance was particularly troublesome. He finished just 3-of-11 from the floor for six points. Brey attributed Jackson’s play to his trying to get back into a rhythm after missing last Thursday’s game against Syracuse with a hamstring injury.
Despite the team’s poor performance against Miami, Brey said he is planning on sticking with the same starting lineup he has employed each of the last two games. That lineup has senior forward A.J. Burgett, who had seen very limited action before Sunday, starting at the ‘4’ in place of either sophomore forward Bonzie Colson or freshman forward Matt Ryan.
“I like the maturity of that group,” Brey said. “I think it’s very important for this stretch of Saturday and Monday.”
Brey’s starting five will need to use all the experience they earned, as they go against one of the most veteran teams in the ACC on Saturday.
Senior forward Brice Johnson is the focal point for the Tar Heels, averaging 16.7 points per game while pulling down 10.2 rebounds. Outside of Johnson, North Carolina looks to a host of different players that have all contributed to the Tar Heels’ eighth-ranked scoring offense in the country, entering Saturday averaging 84.9 points per game. Senior guard Marcus Paige (12.4 ppg), sophomore guard Joel Berry II (12.4 ppg), sophomore guard/forward Justin Jackson (12.0 ppg), junior forward Kennedy Meeks (11.3 ppg) and junior forward Isaiah Hicks (9.8 ppg) are all threats for the Tar Heels.
“It comes back down to defense,” Jackson said of how to stop the Tar Hell offense. “We’ve got to dial in and be consistent. It doesn’t have to be a perfect game to win, but we have to be more consistent.”
North Carolina (19-3, 8-1 ACC) is not only a veteran squad but a deep one. Nine players are logging at least 10 minutes a game, with the most being Berry at just over 30 minutes per contest.
“I think it’s the wear and tear: You’re playing a team that pounds you in the paint,” Brey said of what the toughest part of playing the Tar Heels is for opposing teams. “[North Carolina] wants to keep pounding you with post feeds and keeps pounding the offensive boards. We’re going to have to help our big guy when they feed the post. Our block outs are going to be such a key.”
Playing such a tough opponent, Brey said he doesn’t think it will take a lot to fire his team up. It doesn’t hurt College GameDay will be there either, for the first time since Notre Dame’s 104-101 five-overtime victory over No. 11 Louisville in 2013.
“It’s gonna be a crazy atmosphere, it’s gonna be fun,” senior forward Zach Auguste said. “One of my best memories here was against Louisville. The atmosphere is going to be incredible. We just have to play within ourselves and be patient.”
With his team in need of a signature win, Brey said he is confident in his veterans to step up and forget about Wednesday’s defeat at Miami.
“[We need a] very short memory, especially in February with the level of competition coming at us,” Brey said. “And you want to play with a free mind and let it rip. I don’t think anyone is going to give us much of a chance on Saturday, so let’s go play like we have nothing to lose.”
With College GameDay on site, Notre Dame hosts top-ranked North Carolina on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Tip is set for 7 p.m.