Notre Dame looking to get back on track against NC State
Marek Mazurek | Friday, February 2, 2018
The last time Notre Dame and North Carolina State played, things were going alright for the Irish.
For one, Irish head coach Mike Brey picked up his 394th career victory, the most in Irish history, at Notre Dame on Jan. 3 versus the Wolfpack.
Senior forward Bonzie Colson injured his foot in the previous game and senior guard Matt Farrell exited the game against the Wolfpack (15-7, 5-4 ACC) before halftime with an ankle sprain. But the win over North Carolina State saw the Irish take an 2-0 record in the ACC and prove they could win big without Colson.
Fast forward a month, and it’s do or die time for Notre Dame (13-9, 3-6 ACC).
Notre Dame’s last conference win came on Jan. 6 at Syracuse and the intermittent weeks saw the Irish drop close home contests to North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia Tech. Most recently, the Irish were blown out in Cameron Indoor Stadium by No. 4 Duke as Farrell and freshman wing D.J. Harvey have joined Colson in missing significant time due to injury.
It’s only the beginning of February, but as the Irish enter the second half of their conference slate, head coach Mike Brey’s squad will need to rack up a significant number of wins in order to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The first challenge on that rebound: North Carolina State.
“We need it. Every game is valuable at this point,” Irish senior forward Martinas Geben said. “We have nine games left in the regular season, any win we can get, we’re going to take it. We need it for our conference.”
Geben said that Brey has talked to the team openly about the likelihood of making the NCAA tournament.
“We had it all laid on Tuesday in the locker room on the whiteboard,” Geben said. “Coach talked to us about what we need to do and ways we can get in the tournament. At this point we need wins. That’s the most important thing, we need wins on the road, especially this opportunity coming up at N.C. State will be a lot of help for us.”
Part of the reason for Notre Dame’s rough start in the ACC has been the string of injuries to key players. On Thursday, Brey said Farrell will be a game-time decision, with the hope that he practices Thursday and Friday.
“I’d have to evaluate him the next two days live — I haven’t seen him go five-on-five yet — and see how he feels,” Brey said. “We could use that lift of having him in the lineup even if it’s for 18 minutes to have him in the game some. That could really help us and lift us.”
“I’m trying to get back as soon as I can,” Farrell said. “I’ve been getting treatment, I’ve been using a bone stimulator, so it’s helping a lot.”
Brey said freshman wing D.J. Harvey will not suit up Saturday, but will look to return to the lineup in the coming week or two.
In the absence of Farrell, Colson and Harvey, Notre Dame has tried a number of lineups to get offensive production.
The Irish have committed to putting more bigs on the floor to get a leg up on the offensive glass. With the exception of the Duke matchup and the first Georgia Tech game, the Irish have managed to outrebound their opponents in every ACC game this season. The last time the Irish and the Wolfpack met, Notre Dame won the battle on the boards 41-30, including 10 offensive rebounds.
The Irish have also relied on sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs and sophomore forward John Mooney who have led the team offensively in the last stretch of games. Gibbs scored 22 points against the Blue Devils in Monday’s loss, while slotting in 27 against Virginia Tech last Saturday.
“One of the things I think we’ll do Saturday is let Gibbs start with the ball in his hands and keep Matty [Farrell] off the ball, and let him get comfortable” Brey said. “Once we substitue, bring Matty back to the ball, but start the game with Gibbs with it in his hands, I think that could help him jump start himself, because he’s been so darn good.”
North Carolina State is coming off of a two-game win streak, including wins over Pittsburgh and a road victory in overtime versus North Carolina.
Despite the urgency of the next stretch of games, Brey said his team is ready to respond.
“Kids are amazingly resilient and older guys are even more resilient,” Brey said. “If we had a team of more sophomores and freshman, I think this would really affect them. But this is a group that’s older. I’ve been very realistic with them about our chances and where we stand, what we would have to do to get back in the picture.
“I told them, let’s see if we turn the month to February and our karma can swing a bit the other way.”