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Men’s Basketball

ND looks to reverse recent trends as team hosts Georgia Tech

| Friday, February 8, 2019

Notre Dame will look to reverse its present course this Sunday against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who will visit Purcell Pavilion for another ACC showdown.

For Irish head coach Mike Brey and the entire program, the 2018-19 campaign can be thought of as one, long, recurring bad dream— right now for Notre Dame (12-11, 2-8 ACC), it’s just more of the same problems.

Although the Irish appeared to have turned the corner last Saturday with a 79-73 road win over Boston College to kick-start the month, the victory over the Eagles (11-10, 2-7) is now appearing to be more of a fluke than a concrete signifier of fortunes to come. The team failed to build upon its rare conference win and instead wilted in its next ACC matchup — against Miami in South Florida. The Irish offense fell flat Wednesday as the team was rolled by the Hurricanes (10-12, 2-8 ACC) 62-47.

Now, the Irish welcome Georgia Tech (11-12, 3-7) to their home court, aiming to right the ship once again and seek revenge against the Yellow Jackets, who bested them in January. In that game, Notre Dame fell by a score of 63-61 in what was a close battle throughout inside Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. Brey said after the game that the loss was a quintessential example of Notre Dame’s inability to make clutch plays down the stretch and finish close games, something it has struggled with all season.

Annie Smierciak
Irish freshman guard Prentiss Hubb looks for the step-back jumper against Virginia’s Jack Salt in Purcell Pavilion last weekend.

“We battled. We’ve kind of been who we’ve been — we were right there. We just can’t get over the hump. This is a tough league to get over the hump in,” Brey said.

On Wednesday night against Miami, the Irish didn’t even play well enough to be in a close game down the stretch. Instead, the 15-point loss can be characterized by another consistent problem Notre Dame has encountered this season: a lack of reliable shooting.

The Irish shot 18-56 (32.1 percent) overall and just 4-28 (14.3 percent) from behind the arc against the Hurricanes, a pervasive issue that Brey also addressed following the team’s loss to Georgia Tech.

“That’s been the story of us. We haven’t shot the ball well. We’re good with the ball … we pass and catch well, and we’re getting clean looks — we’re just not making enough of them,” Brey said. “I think we’re a little better shooting team than we’re showing, but until you do it you are who you are. We just haven’t shot it well enough to win in this league.”

To be fair, it’s a tall task to consistently put the ball in the basket against a team like Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are ranked 26th in scoring defense this season and are No. 12 in overall adjusted defense according to KenPom. Featuring length at all five positions and anchored by 6-foot-9 junior center James Banks III in the middle of the defense, Brey recognizes that the Yellow Jackets are a tough team to try and reverse Notre Dame’s offensive trends against.

“They’re a heck of a team,” Brey said of the Yellow Jackets following the 63-61 loss. “I think they’re a good team when they’ve got their bodies, and they’re really hard to score on. There’s a reason their stats play out as one of the best, if not the best defensive team in our league.

“They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re in the passing lanes, and if you do beat them you’ve got a shot blocker in the back [in Banks] … They’re hard to deal with. They’re going to be hard to score on for everybody, so they’re always going to be in games. They’re just always going to be there.”

While Georgia Tech had Notre Dame’s number back in January, the Yellow Jackets have been struggling themselves as of late. The team has lost four straight — its last win coming against Notre Dame — suffering defeats at the hands of Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and most recently Clemson, who they played Wednesday night. With Notre Dame and Georgia Tech currently limping along amidst the grind of ACC play, Sunday’s matchup is a chance for a fresh start and a potential spark for the backstretch of the conference schedule for each squad. For Brey, the message now remains the same as his message after their last loss to Georgia Tech.

“We gotta keep trying to help them. Keep them upbeat and keep them positive,” he said.

Though at times a frustrating season, Brey has stayed calm and patient with his young team, confident that his program will be able to turn it around eventually. Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner complimented Brey during his post-game press conference on Jan. 22, saying that he draws inspiration from the Irish coach and the way he’s built up the Notre Dame program.

“Everyone knows my feelings on coach Brey — I think he’s awesome,” Pastner said. “I want to model our program after his. He’s a future Hall of Famer … and I have the highest level of respect for he and his staff and their student athletes. They’re really good, they’re young, but he’s done an amazing job as always.”

With both programs in need of a win, the Irish and the Yellow Jackets will face off Sunday evening inside Purcell Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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About Joe Everett

Joe is a senior PLS major and hails from the thriving metropolis of South Bend, IN. In addition to formerly serving as Sports Editor at The Observer, Joe is a RA in Stanford Hall and a past champion of the Observer's Fantasy Football league.

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