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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame looks to extend season at Wake Forest

| Friday, February 23, 2018

Notre Dame’s chances to qualify for the NCAA tournament have narrowed to slim to none at this point in the year. But the Irish will look to keep that chance alive when they travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to take on Wake Forest on Saturday.

After another home loss against Miami on Monday night, the Irish (16-12, 6-9 ACC) saw their NCAA tournament status dwindle from a bubble team to a team that is likely to miss out this year. Contrary to Notre Dame teams in recent years, the Irish have struggled to finish close games, a pattern Irish head coach Mike Brey is cognizant of. However, their inability to finish down the stretch is just one of many issues that have plagued the Irish this season. And in spite of another close loss, Brey remains optimistic.

Ann Curtis | The Observer

Irish senior forward Martinas Geben takes a free throw during Notre Dame’s 77-74 loss to Miami on Feb. 19 at Purcell Pavilion.

“This isn’t a bad loss, but [we] needed to get another quality win on our resume, and we couldn’t get it,” Brey said Monday. “That’s exhausting for us. … It’s frustrating we haven’t been able to close them out this year.”

Prominent injuries for the Irish have been what Brey called “the story of the year.” Monday’s loss added to that narrative, as the Irish were without the services of junior guard Rex Pflueger, who was ruled out prior to the contest with the Hurricanes due to a back injury, though he is expected to play Saturday. Freshman wing D.J. Harvey has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, and senior forward Bonzie Colson has returned to practice this week, but he’s not expected to play against the Demon Deacons (11-17, 4-12 ACC).

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the Irish, as they expect to have Colson back in action for Senior Night against Pitt on Feb 28. And of the three remaining teams on Notre Dame’s schedule, No. 1 Virginia is the only team with a winning record.

Despite being at the mercy of the tournament committee, the senior leadership on the team insists they are not putting too much thought into the tournament, as their main concern is finishing the regular season.

“We’re not trying to worry about that; we’re just trying to worry about the next game. We’re going to get back in the gym tomorrow [and] get to work,” senior forward Martinas Geben said Monday. “We’re only worried about Wake Forest. And we’re going to control what we can control. We have to try to forget about it as fast as we can and get back to work. That’s the only thing we can do.”

Senior guard Matt Farrell agreed with Geben and said he believes Colson’s return will help Notre Dame down the regular-season stretch.

“We [have] some good mojo coming — we got Bonzie back,” Farrell said. “We just have to keep fighting. We have three games left. We have to win them.”

Heading into Saturday’s matchup, the Irish are 3-2 against the Demon Deacons since joining the ACC in the 2013-14 season, with Wake Forest’s last victory over Notre Dame coming in the first round of the 2014 ACC tournament.

Although the squad’s future is uncertain at the moment, Brey’s goal remains to win out in hopes of extending his seniors’ seasons into March, he said.

“I don’t know what tournament we’re going to, but I just want [Colson] to get to play something before the season ends,” Brey said. “ … I hope I get to coach them some more. I hope I get to coach them in March for a while, too.”

The Irish will face off against the Demon Deacons on Saturday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with tipoff scheduled for 3 p.m.

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