With Juwan Durham back, Irish seek fresh start in February
Joe Everett | Friday, February 1, 2019
After going through the gauntlet of hosting No. 3 Virginia and No. 2 Duke last weekend, and suffering two resounding defeats in the process, Notre Dame is looking to start with a clean slate as it prepares to hit the road and play Boston College this Saturday.
With aspirations for the postseason long behind the Irish (11-10, 1-7 ACC), head coach Mike Brey and his squad are simply trying to build upon the positives and take it one game at a time — each matchup a fresh opportunity to improve.
“I talked to them, I said ‘Look, February’s a new month, here we go.’ We have played a heck of a schedule, there’s no question about it … but we’re going to have to work like heck to beat anybody in this league,” Brey said. “That’s who we are right now, and that’s who this league is. But February is fresh, so let’s go on the road and play.”
Irish junior forward John Mooney, who has recorded seven-straight double-doubles and leads the ACC with 13, said the Irish need to forget their nightmare January and move forward.
“We obviously had a rough stretch in January, played not only the top teams in the conference but also in the country … but it’s time to flush it and get ready for February, starting on Saturday,” Mooney said.
While the Irish still have 10 tough league games to go, Mooney sees an opportunity for the Irish to start stringing together wins down the backstretch of league play.
“Yeah, no doubt,” Mooney said on whether the Irish can improve in the ACC standings. “Every game in this conference is going to be a tough game, that’s how it is. Every game’s going to be close, so you can’t really underestimate anyone. It’s just the league we’re in and the situation we’re in, so yeah we’re going to take it one game at a time — starting Saturday at Boston College — and then go from there.”
While the Eagles (11-8, 2-5 ACC) are coming off a loss to Syracuse on Wednesday, Brey believes they are a dangerous team, one that the Irish barely beat back on Jan. 12 at home by a score of 69-66 — Notre Dame’s only league win thus far.
“I think Boston College is playing well. They lost a tough one last night, but they had won the previous two … but we’re a lot deeper than the last time we played them. We’ve went from six to nine, so we’re really deep,” Brey joked. “Now I’m going to have playing time problems.”
Regardless, both Brey and Mooney believe that leaving the confines of Purcell Pavilion and banding together on the road should hopefully help the team as they make the trip to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, this weekend.
“I think sometimes you get on the road and you circle the wagons a little bit more and you’re just loose and you play,” Brey said. “There was no question for us, the last two games you have a great crowd and all those people there for you, and you can’t deliver — you can feel that you have the weight of the world on you a little bit. For our young guys, they felt that at times. It’s probably good for us to be away from our building for a while … but, again, we know we played probably the two best teams in the country over the weekend.”
“We kind of have to develop that road-dog mentality that we’ve had here in the past, so it’s up to the older guys to convey that message that it’s here and now, no matter if we’re home or away. But yeah, it’s definitely good to have a change of scenery,” Mooney said.
Perhaps the most positive storyline for Notre Dame heading into its matchup with Boston College is that junior forward Juwan Durham has recovered from an ankle injury and has been practicing with the team this week. With a developmental project like Durham, Brey wants to him to play and get as much experience as possible the rest of the way.
“I’d love to get him 20 [minutes], even though he hasn’t played in a while, on Saturday,” Brey said. “He’s been doing a good job with cardio, but I just think he’s unique and we had something brewing there with him. Then, all of a sudden we got knocked back. Him and Johnny [Mooney] [can play] together in high-low stuff, certainly what he does for you defensively [is key], so one of the things on my mind is: ‘We just got to play him.’ Hopefully physically, cardio-wise, he can handle 20 minutes on Saturday and maybe you start him on Wednesday.”
Durham has been a positive presence for the Irish this season, averaging 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while leading the team in blocked shots (48). Mooney, who has logged serious minutes for Notre Dame in Durham’s absence, is excited to have his frontcourt partner back in the lineup and believes Durham will be able to contribute right away.
“It definitely adds a lot of length in the front court,” Mooney said. “He’s a great player — we need him. Obviously playing with seven to eight guys, you know, it’s always good to have another body in there. He’s a great player, and he’s obviously shown great flashes this year, both offensively and defensively … all of us are extremely confident in his ability to go out and pick up right where he was.
“I think we can be really good together. I think we can be one of the best frontcourts in the conference if we’re both going and we’re both confident in ourselves.”
The Irish and the Eagles are scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Conte Forum.