Notre Dame seeks revenge against Georgia Tech
Alex Carson | Friday, February 24, 2017
Last month, Notre Dame traveled to Atlanta and was stymied by Georgia Tech’s defensive sets, shooting just 40 percent from the field in a 62-60, buzzer-beater loss.
At Purcell Pavilion this Saturday, the No. 21 Irish (21-7, 10-5 ACC) will have a chance to avenge a loss for the second time this year, hosting the Yellow Jackets (16-12, 7-8) in a key matchup for both teams.
Notre Dame, which hasn’t played since a win last Saturday at North Carolina State, has steadily seen its position in the ACC standings rise over its off week. Losses by Duke and Louisville on Wednesday night mean the Irish sit in a four-way tie for second place in the league.
“I mentioned to our guys in the locker room after the [N.C. State] game that we got this thing to 10-5, we park it and watch what happens in the league,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I didn’t think it would be this much upheaval, but it’s great.”
Brey hopes his team’s pursuit of a top-four seed for the ACC tournament, which comes with the heralded double bye, is enough to match Georgia Tech’s motivation Sunday, with the Yellow Jackets sitting right on the NCAA tournament bubble.
“We have a lot to play for, too,” Brey, whose program has earned a double bye in four of the last six years, said. “As far as the NCAA tournament [goes], we’re in very good shape, but certainly finishing in that top four is something … and we’ve done that when the Big East was the best league and now in the ACC. So that’s something we’re really proud of.”
If the Irish are to finish as high up in the standings as possible, though, they’ll first need to overcome a Yellow Jackets team that downed them four weeks earlier. Senior forward V.J. Beachem said the Irish weren’t necessarily in it for “revenge” Sunday, but noted the difficulty of the challenge ahead.
“We’re not really revenge-minded — they played a great game [and] they’re a really good team,” Beachem said. “ … We know it’s gonna be a challenge Sunday night; it’s not gonna be anything easy.”
When a rematch appears on the schedule, it’s typically the team that lost the first contest that needs to make adjustments. But Notre Dame has shifted to a smaller lineup in recent games with great success — and that’s something Georgia Tech, whose strength is its defensive versatility, will need to adjust to.
“They play a lot of different zones and a lot of different defenses,” Beachem said. “The way that we can really spread the floor now, I think that’s something that’s gonna be great for us.”
The Yellow Jackets are a top-10 team in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency statistic, and Brey attributes that success to their combination of perimeter defense and rim protection.
“They’re hard to score on,” Brey said. “They’ve got good perimeter-defending guards and then they’ve got [junior forward Ben Lammers] in the back that blocks shots. And they change defenses on you and they’re really hard to score against.”
Brey said getting out and playing in transition Sunday could help aid in the effort to overcome Georgia Tech’s staunch defense.
“It’s a challenge for our offense, which happens to be in a good flow right now,” Brey said. “I’d love to see us get out in transition, so we don’t have to play against their set defense some.”
Brey confirmed sophomore guard Rex Pflueger will keep his starting spot alongside Notre Dame’s “big four” — junior guard Matt Farrell, senior guard Steve Vasturia, Beachem and junior forward Bonzie Colson — and said he gave his key guys a bit of rest this week after a busy stretch.
“Those four guys, my goal was to get them really refreshed,” Brey said. “And I think we achieved that.”
Notre Dame plays its penultimate home contest of the season Sunday, hosting Georgia Tech for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff.