Short-handed squad faces No. 20 Clemson in ACC road matchup
Marek Mazurek | Friday, January 19, 2018
After two close losses to No. 15 North Carolina and Louisville — which Irish head coach Mike Brey called “gut punches” — Notre Dame looks to respond Saturday in a tilt with No. 20 Clemson.
The Irish (13-6, 3-3 ACC) find themselves in a precarious position in the ACC following the two heartbreaking losses.
With senior forward Bonzie Colson out for at least another seven weeks, freshman wing D.J. Harvey out for four weeks and senior guard Matt Farrell just getting back into the swing of things after missing a week with a sprained ankle, the Irish will have to navigate a tough ACC schedule shorthanded in order to make the NCAA tournament.
While Harvey — a player Brey was counting on to step up in the wake of the team’s injuries — is out until mid-February, his injury could have been much worse after he came down awkwardly in Tuesday’s game against Louisville, clutching his left knee and screaming in pain.
“Just wanted to let everybody know that I’m fine and that it’s only a bone bruise in my left knee, I’ll be out four weeks,” Harvey said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.
“It’s kind of who we are this year,” Brey said of the string of injuries. “We have been very lucky on the injury front over time and it’s a cycle. You go in and out of it. We’re in one now and you just try and manage it as best you can.”
While Harvey will be sidelined for the foreseeable future, Farrell’s return to the lineup has been a much-needed spark for the Irish. Against the Cardinals, Farrell tallied 23 points and eight assists, logging 48 minutes in the double-overtime loss.
For Brey and the Irish, getting into the bye week at 4-3 would mean a lot. After Notre Dame plays Clemson on Saturday, it has a week off before it’s next contest.
“We need to get to the bye week. I’d love to get to the bye week — I said to myself, ‘If we can get to the bye week 4-3, I would have a party; that would be as good as it gets,” Brey said. “But we need to get there and shut it down, give some guys some rest, get Matty [Farrell] closer to 100 percent by the time we take the floor against Virginia Tech.”
One bright spot for the team has been senior forward Martinas Geben. The Lithuanian big man notched a career night versus Louisville, recording 22 points and 17 rebounds. Both numbers were career highs. After the game, Brey said the Irish offense may run through Geben more consistently, given how confident he’s looked.
Another factor which has kept the Irish competitive while shorthanded has been rebounding. The Irish out-rebounded both Louisville and North Carolina, with Geben grabbing 11 offensive boards on Tuesday — the most of any player in the Mike Brey era.
Geben is also one of only five players in the ACC to average a double-double in league play.
“We play a lot of bodies and the rotation’s a little larger than it has been in the past,” Geben said. “[We have] fresher legs and are able to jump with people. I think we’re putting a lot of attention on boxing out and being very sound there.”
Against Clemson (15-3, 4-2 ACC), the Irish have another opportunity to win the battle on the backboard. Though averaging 38 rebounds per game on the season, the Irish have over 40 rebounds in six of their last seven. The Tigers, meanwhile, are averaging 37 boards a game.
“We were all over the backboard [against Louisville],” Brey said. “That keeps up in games, getting those second shots. That makes up for us not making the first shot as much. We’re not making the first shot as much when you don’t have a Colson or a healthy Farrell out there. You have to go get it and we’ve been doing that.”
Notre Dame is 5-0 all-time versus Clemson, but this year’s contest will put the Irish as underdogs against the ranked Tigers. Head coach Brad Brownwell has an experienced roster with the top five scorers for the Tigers being upperclassmen.
Most recently, Clemson lost an 87-79 game to North Carolina on the road.
Notre Dame and Clemson square off Saturday at 4 p.m. at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, South Carolina.