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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame looks to contain NC State on the road

| Friday, February 17, 2017

Mark Gottfried was fired as North Carolina State’s head men’s basketball coach Thursday. Well, kind of.

As a season that started with high hopes has slid into a near-nightmare, N.C. State announced Thursday that Gottfried will be removed as head coach after the end of the season. So, as No. 25 Notre Dame heads to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a Saturday showdown with the Wolfpack, it will be entering a unique situation.

That could give a talented, yet unsuccessful, N.C. State (14-13, 3-11 ACC) squad a bit of an advantage, Irish head coach Mike Brey said.

Irish junior guard Matt Farrell controls his dribble during Notre Dame’s 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.Michelle Mehelas | The Observer
Irish junior guard Matt Farrell controls his dribble during Notre Dame’s 88-81 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 7 at Purcell Pavilion.

“Given the coach’s situation, I think that stirs the intensity and energy and probably fan base — and the team,” Brey said. “They have really good players. Certainly, they’ve got a top-five pick handling the ball, they’ve got a physical front line; there’s a reason they were picked high, they’ve got ability.”

The Wolfpack have, at times, shown glimpses of the team that was picked to finish sixth in the ACC before the season started. An 84-82 road win over now-No. 12 Duke last month was the key win, but N.C. State also blew past Virginia Tech in Raleigh in early January, 104-78. On the flip side, though, Gottfried’s team has had its fair share of no-shows — a 51-point loss to No. 10 North Carolina was the most eye-catching, but a loss to last-place Boston College also stands out.

Brey and the Irish (20-7, 9-5), however, expect N.C. State’s best this Saturday.

“There’re certain nights they’ve really put it together,” Brey said. “And my feeling is they’re going to play great and we are going to have to play fabulous to win a road game. I think you have to throw out the record right now of N.C. State given the dynamics of the program.”

Freshman guard Dennis Smith, the aforementioned potential top-five pick in June’s NBA Draft, was a big reason for N.C. State’s preseason hype — and Brey knows stopping him will be a test Saturday.

“Can you adjust to slow him down a little bit? Can you double team off some ball screens? Can you make him a little more of a jump-shooter?” Brey said. “Because when he gets into the lane, he’s going to get fouled. He’s a heck of a passer, he makes plays. He can beat you.”

Notre Dame’s defensive approach against Smith will likely hinge on diversification, Brey said, with a guard from each class — freshman T.J. Gibbs, sophomore Rex Pflueger, junior Matt Farrell and senior Steve Vasturia — capable of matching up against the Wolfpack star.

“Rex, Matty, T.J., Steve — we do have a number of different bodies who can guard him,” he said. “Playing some zone, we’ve got to do the whole thing with him.”

Pflueger will get another start Saturday, and while the Dana Point, California, native is known for his defensive skills, Brey said he offers help at the offensive end, too.

“We know he can guard, he’s proven himself there,” Brey said. “And you can put him on a real good guard. You can put him on Dennis Smith to start, which is a pretty good way to start it if he starts the game.

“But he’s very good with the ball — he went all those games without a turnover — so when we’re five-out, it’s another ball-handler on the floor that can make decisions; he can put it on the floor and go; he has made his 3-point shot at a much-improved clip … but he gets his hands on stuff.”

After Saturday, Notre Dame will have a week off before its next contest, a home tilt against Georgia Tech on Feb. 26 — and if the Irish can head into that break at 10-5, they could easily find themselves near the top of the conference standings by the time the Yellow Jackets visit.

“We talked about trying to get to 10-5 and then seeing what happens in the league the rest of that week,” Brey said. “If you got to 10-5, all of the sudden your position could be really interesting by that following Sunday when you play Georgia Tech.”

Notre Dame goes for a fourth straight win Saturday at N.C. State, with tipoff from PNC Arena scheduled for noon.

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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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