Notre Dame to begin tough road trip against Clemson
Liam Coolican | Friday, February 7, 2020
The Notre Dame men’s basketball team (14-8, 5-6 ACC) are looking to continue their positive momentum on a tough road trip, traveling first to Clemson, South Carolina, to take on the Tigers (11-11, 5-7 ACC) on Sunday. Following that game, Notre Dame will take on Virginia on Tuesday, then No. 7-ranked Duke on Feb. 15 — both on the road, before returning home for a matchup with North Carolina.
Head coach Mike Brey said he expects the road trip to be challenging, but views it as a chance for the team to grow.
“The road [trip] needs to be looked at as [an] opportunity, not ‘Oh my god, look at what is coming,’” Brey said. “I know it’s the toughest stretch we’ve ever probably played in the history of our program, but it’s [an] opportunity, especially after what we did here, to get back to 5-6 [in the ACC].”
The Irish, winners of three straight matchups — all at home — have been playing very well as of late, according to Brey.
“Great win, great homestand, and we’re within shouting distance,” Brey said after Notre Dame’s 80-72 victory over Pittsburgh Wednesday night.
They have struggled away from South Bend, however. Notre Dame has just a 2-4 record on the road, in addition to a neutral site loss. However, in their last road game, they pushed No. 5-ranked Florida State to the brink, before falling 85-84. Notre Dame has been characterized this year for keeping every game close, no matter the quality of the opponent.
Clemson has played in a number of close games this season, as well. The Tigers have struggled occasionally against teams near the bottom of the ACC, but they have multiple wins against quality opponents, including Duke and a road win over North Carolina. They, much like Notre Dame, will be seeking to improve their NCAA tournament resume over the last few weeks of the season.
The Tigers are led offensively by junior forward Aamir Simms and graduate senior guard Tevin Mack, who average 13.4 and 12 points, respectively. They have lost their last two matchups, on the road against Virginia and Syracuse. When the two teams faced off last season, Clemson came away with a narrow 64-62 win in South Bend on senior night.
Two players Notre Dame will continue to rely on heavily are seniors John Mooney and TJ Gibbs. Gibbs led the Irish with 21 points against Pittsburgh, while Mooney chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the year, which leads all major conference players. Additionally, Mooney was named to the watch list for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Karl Malone award Thursday, which honors the top power forward in college basketball.
“I give our captains a lot of credit,” Brey said. “Gibbs, Mooney and [graduate student forward Rex] Pflueger have set a great tone. They obviously know the clock is ticking on their careers. They’ve set a great tone with the other guys — that February’s got to be our month, that’s all that’s left.”
Sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb will likely be key for the Irish, as well. Interestingly, Hubb plays much better on the road, averaging 19.4 points per game away from home on the season and 23.4 in ACC road games, while scoring just 8.9 per game at Purcell Pavillion. Brey praised Hubb for his offensive contributions.
“I text him every now and then, ‘You’re my Mahomes,’” Brey said, referring to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was named Super Bowl MVP last week. “He has total control [of the offense].”
This will undoubtedly be an important road trip for the Irish, as they are hoping to make a late-season push for the NCAA tournament.
“I’m excited about it, especially because of how we’ve been playing,” Brey said. “We’ve got chances, man.”
Tip off versus Clemson is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday.