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Men’s Basketball

Irish look for different result in rematch with Seminoles

| Friday, February 10, 2017

For the first time this season, Notre Dame will have a chance to avenge a loss, as it prepares to host No. 14 Florida State on Saturday evening in Purcell Pavilion.

Last month, the Irish (18-7, 7-5 ACC) traveled to Tallahassee, Florida, for a matchup between a pair of teams who were then 16-2; the Seminoles (20-4, 9-3) prevailed that night, 83-80, in a game that saw Notre Dame uncharacteristically turn the ball over 18 times. That’s something Irish head coach Mike Brey wants to fix heading into Saturday’s 6 p.m. showdown.

“Eighteen turnovers is something we don’t see hardly ever,” Brey said. “So I think our guys are embarrassed about that and know that we have to be better with it.”

Playing Florida State requires a bit of a different strategy, Brey said, as their length and aggressive defensive style means offenses are forced to react more to the defense’s actions.

“They kind of take your spirit defensively, trapping it right there,” Brey said. “It’s almost as if you’re not running much of your offensive principles sometimes — you’re reading and reacting to ball pressure, traps and you’ve gotta continually do that. So that’s where you’re really, really tested.”

Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brings the ball across half court during Notre Dame’s 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.Michelle Mehelas | The Observer
Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brings the ball across half court during Notre Dame’s 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

Junior guard Matt Farrell struggled most with the Seminoles’ pressure in the first meeting, turning the ball over six times, a season high. Brey said that he doesn’t want to take Farrell’s attacking mindset away from him, but notes that his point guard has made strides over the last couple games in playing a little smarter.

“You don’t want to take his ‘go-for-it’ mentality,” Brey said. “I do think he’s been better; we talked about calling off some transition stuff and not forcing stuff in transition. I think he’s been better in that area — more conservative in that area. He’s also been better on that initial drive in the lane as you see — sometimes he just goes all the way through, instead of maybe trying to make a play over all this length. Since the Georgia Tech game — that game I thought he was trying to take everybody on — I think since then, that’s helped him.”

Another thing that could help Farrell — and the Irish as a whole — avoid turnovers is the increased minutes freshman guard T.J. Gibbs and sophomore guard Rex Pflueger have played over the last couple games. Pflueger played 26 minutes against Wake Forest on Tuesday and 23 at North Carolina on Sunday, while Gibbs played 22 minutes against Wake Forest and 18 against the Tar Heels. It means Brey’s opted to go to a smaller lineup more often, which means more players comfortable with the ball on the floor.

Irish sophomore guard Rex Pflueger looks to drive past a Demon Deacon defender during Notre Dame’s 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.Benjamin Padanilam | The Observer
Irish sophomore guard Rex Pflueger looks to drive past a Demon Deacon defender during Notre Dame’s 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion.

“The one thing that helps is playing smaller; you have more ball-handlers on the floor, you have more guards on the floor,” Brey said. “I thought T.J. Gibbs gave us great stuff down there and took some pressure and [it] could be a game where maybe he ends up playing maybe more than he usually plays.

“But playing with our spread motion and with the smaller lineup, it gives you more decision-makers with the ball against their pressure. I think that can help us.”

Perhaps more uncharacteristic than the turnover mark was how the Irish lost despite their best 3-point shooting day of the year, hitting 15-of-21 attempts.

“It’s like, ‘God, we wasted a great shooting night because we couldn’t handle the ball like we usually handle the ball,’” Brey said. “But it’s encouraging to look and say, ‘When we did move the ball, and were good with it, we got looks.’ … So hopefully we can get some really clean looks again.”

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac had his way with the Irish in the first meeting, going off for 23 points, while junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes hit a couple of late buckets to help seal the result, one that set Notre Dame off on a six-game stretch where it went just 1-5.

But a four-game losing streak was snapped Tuesday, when the Irish down Wake Forest 88-81 in a come-from-behind win. Brey said the Purcell Pavilion crowd helped his team get the stops it needed down the stretch against the Demon Deacons.

“Our crowds have really been good and our student crowds have been great — they really have,” Brey said. “Now it’ll be crazy, this one’s been sold out for a while, but the other night … I thought we had a great crowd. What’s helped us in the second half, our crowd has been great when we’ve been on defense.”

Tipoff between the Irish and Seminoles is scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m., a change from the originally scheduled tip time of 2 p.m.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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