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Men’s Basketball

ND looks to get back on track against Wake Forest

| Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Coming off its fourth loss in a row, Notre Dame will try to recover from their drop to seventh in the ACC against Wake Forest on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

Despite sitting at 10th place in the ACC, the Demon Deacons (14-9, 5-6 ACC) are coming off consecutive league wins against Boston College and Georgia Tech. Leading the charge for Wake Forest is sophomore forward John Collins, who has scored 20-plus points in six straight games. Junior guard Mitchell Wilbekin had a career night against the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, scoring an ACC career-high 16 points while hauling in a career-high five rebounds and recording another career-high five assists.

“They can really score,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said about Wake Forest. “This is a really explosive offensive team. Collins inside has made himself a heck of an NBA prospect. He’s hard to deal with, but then you have shooting on the perimeter. You’ve got guys with shot-making ability. They can really score the ball.

“We have to see if we can slow that down a little bit, but then again, I think our focus has got to be — you know we’re going to have to score to beat them. So, how can I help get our offense get more efficient closer to 40 minutes than 30?”

Irish freshman guard T.J. Gibbs shoots a wide-open jumper during Notre Dame’s 84-74 loss to Duke on Jan. 30 at Purcell Pavilion.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish freshman guard T.J. Gibbs shoots a wide-open jumper during Notre Dame’s 84-74 loss to Duke on Jan. 30 at Purcell Pavilion.

Against No. 8 North Carolina on Sunday, Notre Dame (17-7, 6-5 ACC) struggled defensively, allowing about 50 percent from the field while giving up 17 offensive rebounds. During their current four-game skid, the Irish have been outrebounded, 157-102.

Brey has acknowledged Notre Dame’s struggles on the glass, but also recognizes that the team’s smaller lineup gives the Irish the best chance offensively.

“We were really efficient with our smaller group,” Brey said. “We got beat up on the boards, but that’s the best rebounding team in the country, and we still kind of had a shot. We’re going to absorb some put-backs when we play small, but when we get to that, that is our most efficient offensive group, and I think it’s something we’re going to have to continue to look at.”

Wake Forest averages 81.6 points per game, tied for 29th in the country and fourth in the ACC, so the Irish, who average about three points less, will be faced with the challenge of matching up offensively while controlling the deficit on the glass. To make things more difficult, the Irish had just one day to prepare for Wake Forest.

“[Monday] is very much a mental day,” Brey said. “It’s the first time we play Wake, so we’ve got to get our guys familiar with them. We gotta stretch out and shoot a little bit and just make sure we’ve got our energy by 7 p.m. [Tuesday] night. It’s much more mental than physical, and our guys have handled this kind of prep pretty good. This is a little bit like the day between Miami and Virginia Tech where we couldn’t even get into the gym that day. I thought our guys handled the mental preparation really well.”

Notre Dame has won the last three matchups against Wake Forest, but on Monday Brey repeated what he’s said all season long: There isn’t one ACC team Notre Dame can take lightly. When comparing it to the 2011 Big East conference that sent 11 teams to the NCAA tournament, Brey said this year’s ACC is much stronger.

“When you have a Pittsburgh team who — I can’t believe they’re 1-9 — who I think is just one hell of a basketball team, they go in and beat Maryland on the road, who can win the Big Ten championship by 15, 20,” Brey said. “It’s deep and good all the way to the bottom. There were some teams, I believe, in that year we got 11 bids that maybe some of them don’t even win a game [in the Big East]. … We’re in a tough stretch, but we have six league wins right now, you know, I’m not complaining. If we can scratch out some more, we can get in this dang NCAA tournament, but I think [the ACC is] getting 10 bids.”

Despite the recent struggles, Brey is confident that Notre Dame will find a way to halt the losing streak and get back toward the top of the conference as the regular season comes to a close.

“I’ve said this in December and November, and I’ve said this when we were 5-0, and I’m going to say it when we’ve lost a bunch here and we’re taking our medicine — I love our group,” Brey said. “I love our fight. I love our toughness. We keep slinging, and we keep trying. I think we’ll get rewarded with it. We just gotta hang on in there and understand the league that we’re in, but there’s a great toughness about them, and at the end of the day, that’ll be the thing that gets us over the hump.”

Notre Dame will tip off against Wake Forest at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

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About Manuel De Jesus

Manuel De Jesus is a junior from Chicago, Illinois. He is an American Studies major with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He is currently covering ND Volleyball, Men's Soccer and Men's Basketball.

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