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Men’s Basketball

Notre Dame heads home, looks for second win over Syracuse

| Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team will once again be facing off against the Syracuse Orange, this time on home soil.

The Irish men last played against Syracuse (11-7, 4-3 ACC) at the Carrier Dome in the first game of the year Jan. 4. Leaving New York with an 88-87 victory, the Irish will be looking to replicate both the intensity and the result of that game at home.

The Irish are 11-6 this season, but they have a 2-4 record against ACC opponents. One of this team’s strong suits is being able to finish strong at home. So far, the Notre Dame team is 9-2 when playing in Purcell Pavilion.

Before Monday’s practice, head coach Mike Brey commented on the state of the team. It has been a week since the team’s last game — a 78-74 victory over Georgia Tech on the road.

“It feels like we played last year now,” Brey said. ”Certainly Atlanta was good for us … Certainly finishing the other night — I thought we did a great job, made some big shots and we were solid on defense. We gambled, I thought, against Louisville on some defensive possessions here, ran through a passing lane, tried to maybe make the steal to win it and I thought we were really solid against them.”

Nathanial George | The Observer
Irish senior forward John Mooney drives to the paint during Notre Dame’s 75-61 victory against UCLA on Dec. 14 at Purcell Pavilion. Mooney is averaging 13.9 rebounds per game.

Looking back at the Georgia Tech and Louisville games, Brey highlighted the effects of a smaller lineup on the team’s overall efficiency.

“We had that smaller lineup in again for those last eight or nine minutes [against Louisville],” Brey said. ”Not only does that open the floor for [sophomore guard] Prentiss [Hubb] and [senior guard] T.J. [Gibbs], but it puts [senior forward] Johnny [Mooney] in the post more. It cleans the post up for him. It’s a lineup that we keep coming back to at key times, and if it’s going well, you ride it.”

Further breaking down the small lineup, Brey also discussed the contributions of the big men.

“[Graduate student guard] Rex [Pflueger], the other night in Atlanta, was having to guard a four-man, a power forward, for a while, and we’re just going to live with that,” Brey said. “We feel like we are going to get our dividends on the offensive end with those matchups and hold our own more often than not on the defensive end … Our bigs were also really good. [Senior forward] Juwan [Durham] and Mooney were very good inside of that zone handling the ball and then offensive rebounding. I don’t want to lose sight of that in this particular one, but that smaller lineup is something that we could go to. It kind of jump-starts us offensively.”

Turning to the team’s mentality during games, Brey had a lot to say about the culture that he is trying to instill. With such a small roster, mental focus is a major key for this Notre Dame team.

“[Last game], we talked a little bit about embracing game situations,” Brey said. ”I said, ‘Fellas, I just think we are going to be in them all of the time. Can we have fun with them? How exciting is it that we get to do this?’ I tried to create that atmosphere when I sat down in the huddle at 3:49. I said, ‘Well, right where we talked about.’ There is no question that a Prentiss Hubb and a T.J. Gibbs are giving you kind of an edge and a confidence that permeates through the group. Those two guys have helped us. They helped us Wednesday, and hopefully we can keep them in that mode.”

With a few impressive wins on their resume, the Irish are looking to continue their momentum with a home victory against the Orange. Two consecutive conference wins would be a big step towards achieving this goal.

“We keep getting to this crossroads, and we haven’t been able to get over the hump,” Brey said. ”It would be really powerful to sweep [Syracuse]. They are playing really well. Of course, the last game we played may have been the best game of the season to watch if you’re just a basketball fan. The ball was just going in. It’s the one where we feel, ‘Can we take that next step and maybe tag a couple together?’ It would be a big night for us, no question.”

The Irish are currently 12th in the ACC. Another win against Syracuse would establish the Irish as real competitors for Sunday’s game in Tallahassee against Florida State.

“You have Louisville, Duke and Florida State, and then the rest of us are in total search for it mode,” Brey said. ”Which is good that there are only three of them up there that have kind of said, ‘Look at us, we are for real. There are not five of them, there are not seven of them. So yeah, you win two in a row and you’re in fifth place.”

Brey emphasized that there is always time to catch up in the conference but that this is the time to do it. In order to advance, the team needs to win games now.

Two players that Brey attributed with maturity and big performances this season are sophomores guard Dane Goodwin and forward Nate Laszewski.

“Dane packed his game,” Brey said. ”He has been good here at home and I challenged him the whole trip, ‘Did you pack your game? Did you pack it? Is it in your bag?’ And he played really well. Nate is rebounding and defending. He is going to knock some of those down, I just feel like he is. I feel good about where some of those young guys are growing.”

The stage is set and the players are ready. Tipoff will be Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

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