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Men’s Basketball

With NCAA tournament berth on the line, Irish prepare for rematch with Boston College

| Wednesday, February 26, 2020

After winning two games at home last week, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team heads to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to take on Boston College. The Irish (17-10, 8-8 ACC) were defeated by the Eagles (13-15, 7-10 ACC) at home on Dec. 7 by a score of 73-72, after Notre Dame’s comeback attempt fell short.

“Watching the film of us, we weren’t very good back in December. I think we’re a lot better [now],” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “[Boston College] played small and guarded us with their athletic ability, and it almost knocked us back on our heels like a Louisville or Florida State kind of defense. We weren’t anywhere near as good offensively then, or understood who we were.”

Anthony Reo | The Observer
Irish senior guard T.J. Gibbs takes a jump shot during Notre Dame’s home win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 5.

Boston College’s backcourt overmatched Notre Dame’s in that game. Senior Derryck Thornton scored 19 and freshman Jay Heath added 16, including a three-pointer with under a minute left to seal the game.

“[I’m] concerned about them guarding us with ball pressure, which at times has bothered us,” Brey said.

Heath and Thornton are likely to be a major factor again Wednesday, Brey said.

“[They’ll] challenge our guards,” he said. “They got the best of us last time … so it’s a great challenge for our perimeter [defense]. Those two guys really make them go.”

The Irish were able to come back against Boston College last time in part because they switched to a zone defense. Brey addressed whether that strategy would figure into the game plan.

“We went zone to try and save our lives, and that helped us a little bit. We’ll play some zone up there,” he said.

The Eagles are are a prolific three-point shooting team, averaging over 28 attempts per game, converting at a 30.1 percent clip.

Additionally, Boston College was playing without senior big man Nik Popovic, who is averaging 11.1 points per game this season.

“He is a threat,” Brey said. “He can score and he is good with the ball.”

The two teams have been trending in opposite directions. The Irish have won their last two games and six of their last eight, while Boston College has lost three of their last four games, including an 18-point defeat to Clemson in their last outing. The Eagles have an 8-8 home record, while the Irish are just 3-6 in road games.

“It would be a heck of a win for us, to win up there,” Brey said.

With just four regular season games left and with an 8-8 conference record, Notre Dame is looking to make a statement before the ACC tournament. While many doubt Notre Dame is in a position to make the NCAA tournament, Brey remains hopeful.

“We’ve got one game on our schedule, that’s how we’ve got to think about it,” Brey said. “If you keep winning down the stretch, you start to get into the mix, and it kind of works itself out. That’s the goal. General rule of thumb, whether a league is up or it’s down … if you have a winning record in a Power Five league, you’re going to be on the board somewhere.”

The Irish will have multiple opportunities for the rest of the season, but it remains a long shot. Most media outlets are projecting the ACC to only have four teams in the field, but Brey thinks otherwise.

“[The ACC] is going to have more than four [teams in the tournament],” he said. “We could grab one of those. I love where we’re at, and our guys firmly know where they’re at. … I’m thrilled we’re in the position we’re in.”

The game tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. in Conte Forum and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.

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