Notre Dame looks to improve to 6-1 against Illinois
Alex Bender | Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Notre Dame returns to action Tuesday night when it faces off against Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. After suffering a loss to Radford on November 14, the Irish have bounced back with three straight wins against William & Mary, Duquesne and DePaul. As has been the case all season, scoring was spread out across the roster this past Saturday when Notre Dame downed DePaul 95-70. Four different players were in double digits, and head coach Mike Brey realizes the potential with the deep roster he has this season.
“All options are open. I don’t know if I have ever had my mind race so much during a season with combinations … I think we have been for 18 seasons before this pretty much ‘these are the guys that are going to play’ and maybe there is a surprise,’” Brey said. “So that’s been kind of new for me to just keep thinking of different ways and try to keep them confident and keep teaching them.”
Looking forward, the Irish are preparing to host Illinois on Tuesday.
Illinois’ record of 2-4 may not indicate how strong they have been this season. Like Notre Dame, the Illini have seen solid offensive production from a number of their players with six team members averaging more than seven points per game. On Monday, Illinois faced off against Gonzaga, who currently sits at No. 1 in the country, and lost by just six points. As the Irish prepare for the Illini, Brey said he knows some adjustments will be necessary.
“How we played offensively against DePaul will probably have to be different because Illinois pressures you so much. You can’t make as many passes because they are in the passing lanes,” Brey said. “It is a little bit like the Duquesne game where they were up in us and you’ve just got to drive it after a couple of passes or maybe a ball screen. We’re going to have to be strong with the ball, and our drives have been better.”
One notable change Notre Dame will have to continue to make heading into this matchup is what to do with the absence of Elijah Burns. The 6–foot-8 power forward recently announced he will be transferring to Siena, meaning the roster will have to begin to take a new shape with Brey most likely turning to some of his younger players.
“As much as we were disappointed in losing [Burns], it does open up playing time and guys want to play,” Brey said. “It just opens up more minutes and more opportunities for guys, and especially for [junior forward Juwan] Durham and [freshman forward Nate] Laszewski, and even [freshman guard Dane] Goodwin … so it gives those guys more opportunity, and so far the last two games they have taken advantage of it.”
Tuesday night’s game will be the last in a season-opening seven-game home stand. It marks the 42nd time these two programs have met, the last coming in December 2015 when once again both schools participated in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Irish took that game 84-79. Brey said he would be pleased if his team can find a similar result this time around.
“It would be huge for our group. This has been a pretty busy segment for us and it ends tomorrow night when we won’t play again for a week, and if we can get through it 6-1 given who we’ve played, and we’ve played some good teams … I would be thrilled,” Brey said. “We are in a dog fight tomorrow, and we’ve got to guard the yard because man are they shooting the heck out of the ball.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.