Irish set to begin road stretch against Georgia Tech
Nate Moller | Friday, February 5, 2021
The Irish will travel to Atlanta this weekend to take on Georgia Tech (8-6, 4-4 ACC). After starting the season with a 3-8 record, the Irish (7-9, 4-6 ACC) have won four of their last five games. That five-game stretch included double digit victories over Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Miami and Boston College with the only loss coming to then 20th-ranked Virginia Tech.
In their most recent victory against Wake Forest, the Irish opened the second half on a 16-0 run to record a comfortable 79-58 win. Graduate student forward Juwan Durham was the top scorer for the Irish with 18 points off of a seven of nine effort from the field. Junior guard Cormac Ryan added 13 points off the bench to lead the Irish to victory.
Irish head basketball coach Mike Brey attributed his team’s recent success to the defense, as it has led to a better rhythm on offense.
“It’s great to see the reward of getting a stop and a defensive rebound or a steal or deflection and being able to come down the court a little quicker,” Brey said. “Maybe it’s not a fast break, but early offense, where the defense is not set, and it’s really helped us I think. The carrot is they’re seeing what we can get offensively, and it’s a fun way to play.”
Brey believes the emphasis on stop-scores has brought another level of energy to the team in recent weeks.
“It’s great for them to see the value of the stock on the other end of the floor that we can get into early offense and stretch and move it,” Brey explained. “What happens is guys run because they know if they run, they’ll get the ball. What you see a lot of times is guys will stop running because they think that guy is not gonna throw it to them. We run because we know we’ll get the ball.”
With the recent victories, Brey believes his team is back within striking distance of postseason competitions such as the NIT and NCAA tournaments with his team’s NET rankings rising significantly.
“The one thing we’ve done in the last two weeks is our NET has got us within striking distance,” Brey said. “It’s 72 I believe today, which is up from a 105 before the Pitt game. We’re getting into the vicinity last year’s team got to — their net was 52 at the end of the day. Most likely that team was a NIT team. but they made a run to the edge of it, and that’s kind of the territory we’re in this season.”
After playing Georgia Tech, the Irish will stay on the road to face Duke next week as well.
Brey hopes that his team can use this road trip to improve their place in the ACC standings, as both Georgia Tech and Duke are currently ahead of the Irish in the standings.
“For this road swing, we’ve got opportunities against teams above us in the standings,” Brey said. “So you know, we’ve climbed a little, and we could continue to climb.”
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a double digit loss to Louisville on Monday. They did knock off then 16th-ranked Florida State, however, by 11 points last weekend. Last season, the Irish recorded two narrow victories against the Yellow Jackets by scores of 78-74 and 80-72.
One of the challenges for the Irish on Saturday will be limiting the production of Yellow Jacket senior guard Jose Alvarado. Alvarado has averaged 17.5 PPG this season while shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% from the three-point line. The Irish were successfully able to hold Alvarado to seven points in their first victory against the Yellow Jackets last season. In the second game, though, Alvarado erupted for 25 points.
Brey discussed how the Irish know the Yellow Jackets well, but they have become a more offensive-minded team as of late.
“We know them a lot. It’s interesting to see how they have become a little bit more of an offensive group. They’re shooting and scoring, and Alvarado really makes them go,” Brey said. “Our defense, which we have tried to be more committed to, will be challenged.”
Stopping Alvarado will be a key for the Irish on Saturday.
“We have played against some good guards, and we have to have that awareness when [Alvarado] uses a ball screen to stay with him a little longer to trap him a little bit and to get it out of his hands to make some other people make plays,” Brey said. “So, again, I think [Alvarado is] an amazing challenge for our defense.”
With school starting back up, the Irish are back on their normal practice schedule and academic routine.
“We’re back practicing at 3:15 instead of maybe noon like we’ve done for a while,” Brey explained. “I think it helps the kind of guys we get here, when they have an academic routine during the day and then come to practice. I think a little bit too much idle time can make you a little lethargic. So we’re back and being active.”
Saturday’s game will tip off at 8 p.m. EST and can be viewed on the ACC Network.