Irish confident in team’s ability heading into top-15 matchup
Joe Everett | Friday, January 18, 2019
While the young, inexperienced and injured Notre Dame team recently fell to 11-6 on the season and 1-3 in ACC play, the squad believes that better days are on the horizon, and is aiming to get back in the win column this Saturday afternoon when No. 17 North Carolina State visits Purcell Pavilion.
Although Notre Dame played well against No. 13 North Carolina this Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Tar Heels pulled away for a 75-69 win as the Irish (11-6, 1-3 ACC) couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Although the blow of another loss on a big stage certainly stings for an already-depleted Irish squad, junior guard T.J. Gibbs — who played through the flu against the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1) — said that the team has already moved on and is ready to keep competing against top-notch conference foes.
“It’s tough, but we can’t look back at the past and change anything about that,” Gibbs said. “I love this group and would do anything for this team, whether that’s go out and play sick or give my left arm. I love these guys to death and that’s something this team’s always going to do — we’re going to fight and I knew I had to keep fighting.”
For Gibbs, the biggest area of growth for the team going forward will be cultivating the individual ability to make game-changing plays, especially late in the game.
“The biggest thing about conference [play] is just willing the ball in [the basket] and making plays. We might have to do that outside the [set] offense, and that’s something this team is still getting used to … sometimes you have to make plays on your own,” he said. “I think UNC was a big help for us, and we’re just going to keep building off of that.”
The silver lining to all the injuries the Irish have suffered this season is that the rotation of players within the game is smaller and more consistent, which sophomore wing D.J. Harvey explained helps the team get into a better rhythm and play looser.
“Especially with the injuries, it’s definitely a limited rotation playing seven to eight guys a game,” Harvey said. “It’s a lot easier to manage for [Irish head coach Mike Brey] after the injuries [we’ve had], so going deeper into the ACC season I think it’s going to stay the same — it’s a pretty good rotation … nobody’s looking over their shoulder after they make a mistake.”
However, the rotation — tight-knit and cohesive as it may be — has not led to much success for Brey’s squad early on in conference play, with hopes of an NCAA tournament berth growing fainter and fainter. However, the veteran Gibbs understands that the squad has to continue to trust the process, and the wins will follow.
“It always comes with the territory — nobody likes losing and didn’t come here to lose. We know that and know we just need to play hard each game,” Gibbs said. “The chips are going to fall where they fall — we’re not really worried about that, but we know that the clock’s ticking. We’re going to get one, it’s only a matter of time, and coach always says the tables are going to turn and that it’s coming. We can feel it, so we’re not really worried about it.”
The Irish will look the begin turning the tables by pulling an upset against the Wolfpack (14-3, 2-2) this Saturday. Although North Carolina State presents a formidable backcourt — with all five of the Wolfpack’s leading scorers playing at the guard position — Gibbs and the Irish guards are ready for the challenge that awaits them.
“Every game in the ACC is a challenge for us, but I think the biggest challenge that they [present] is that their guards are really good. It’s been two years in a row that their guards have really gotten after us a little bit, and we take that personal, and I know that’s going to be one thing that I look forward to is getting back on the court against them … we want this game, we know what’s at stake, and we’re ready for it,” Gibbs said.
The Wolfpack head to South Bend fresh off a 71-67 road loss to Wake Forest, and Harvey believes the Irish stand as good a chance as any, especially at home, to pull out a win come Saturday.
“They’re a top-15 team in the country, but with their loss to Wake Forest the other day it shows that they’re beatable,” Harvey said. “Anybody in this league is beatable, so if you play hard and out-work them on both ends of the court, I feel like we’ll come out with the W.”
Notre Dame and North Carolina State are scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.