ND ready for shorthanded Wake Forest squad
Brian Plamondon | Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Looking to climb back into the top tier of the ACC standings, No. 23 Notre Dame travels to Wake Forest on Wednesday night to take on a Demon Deacon team missing its best player.
After a last-second loss Saturday to Georgia Tech, Notre Dame now sits two games behind first place North Carolina in the conference standings. The Irish also trail Miami (Fla.), Virginia and Louisville by a game, as they look towards the ACC tournament and a potential double bye. But despite being on the outside looking in for the regular-season conference title, the team’s mindset hasn’t changed since facing the Yellow Jackets, junior forward V.J. Beachem said.
“We had a bit of a slip-up Saturday that put us in a little bit worse of a position than we were going into the week,” Beachem said. “But we still have a shot at it, just have to take it day by day and game by game.”
So Notre Dame (18-8, 9-5 ACC) will turn its attention to Wake Forest, a team the Irish beat 85-62 Jan. 31. If the Demon Deacons are to pull the upset, they will have to do so without their leading scorer and rebounder, senior forward Devin Thomas. Thomas, who was averaging 15.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, was suspended Feb. 19 for two games for violating an undisclosed athletic department policy.
Wake Forest (11-16, 2-13) handled conference bottom-dweller Boston College on Sunday without Thomas, 74-48, for its first win in 12 games. And despite the suspension of Thomas, Irish head coach Mike Brey said he still expects a tough game from the Demon Deacons.
“I know they’ve had their struggles on the road, but [at home] they play very well,” Brey said. “They play fast — they’re the second fastest paced team in our league — so we’ve got to get back in transition and have our defense set. But it’d be nice to get off to a little better start on the road like we did at Clemson.”
Notre Dame’s defense will likely key in on freshman guard Bryant Crawford (13.7 points per game, 4.3 assists per game), who is carrying the load in Thomas’ absence. Crawford scored 20 points when the Demon Deacons visited Purcell Pavilion last month.
The Irish will also try to extend their ‘bounce-back’ win streak to 13 games, as they have not lost back-to-back games since the end of the 2013-14 season.
“That’s been a nice trait for two seasons, really,” Brey said. “We’ve been great in that mode. We’re in that mode again against a team that is better than their record.”
If the Irish are to continue their streak, they may have to do so without senior captain and leading rebounder Zach Auguste. Auguste hyper-extended his knee in the final minute against Georgia Tech and did not practice Monday, although Brey said he is hopeful Auguste can play. Losing Auguste for Wednesday’s tilt would leave a large gap in the post for Notre Dame, where he is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. If Auguste cannot go, Notre Dame could choose to go small with Beachem and sophomore forward Bonzie Colson or add seldom-used reserve forwards junior Austin Torres and sophomore Martinas Geben to the mix.
Whoever is starting for the Irish on Wednesday, their focus will be on preventing back-to-back losses against non-NCAA tournament teams, Beachem said.
“We’ve been in this position before, going on the road having to bounce back,” Beachem said. “It’s a great opportunity for us these next two games, and we want to leave the week with two wins.”
Notre Dame will play its second of three straight road games Wednesday night when it takes on Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m.