Notre Dame basketball: ND men already at a crossroads


South Bend Tribune


Put a quality product on the floor and people are going to notice.

Even the Leprechaun Legion. For a noon start on a Sunday.

Prior to Notre Dame's game with Indiana State, Irish head basketball coach Mike Brey beat the bushes looking for support for his team.

Allegedly, 8,257 people came out to watch the Sycamores pull off a stunner, 83-70. Several included in that number were wearing blue and have the route to Terre Haute committed to memory. Another faction apparently didn't bother occupying seats and must have hid in the hallways.

No need for Brey to pound on dorm doors. Getting his players to execute on a consistent basis will be more of an attraction.

The Irish need to make themselves a hot ticket.

Kinda like: Play some defense, and they will come.

All indications are that this loss is going to look better in a couple months than it does now.

It better.

The core of this Indiana State team made a statement last season with wins over Miami (Florida, not Ohio) and Wichita State. Not too long after the loss, the Shockers advanced to the Final Four.

These Sycamores weren't slouches.

Brey said the first thing Indiana State coach Greg Lansing told him after the game went final was, “Thanks for scheduling us.”

However, what he didn't say was, “Thanks for scheduling us, and deciding not to play a very effective defense.”

At least that's what those 8,257- — phantom or real — were thinking as they filed out of the joint. A Brey-coached team hadn't lost a November home game since 1998; 48 in a row.

When the Sycamores were allowed to hit 11 of 20 3-pointers (8 of 17 in the first half and 3 of 3 in the second) trouble followed.

Help-side defense ... needed help.

It got to the point where Brey was relieved when Indiana State sent the ball down low. At least it wasn't going to be a 3. It wasn't rare for an Indiana State player to rev up from 23 feet and find a clear path to the bucket.

"Big 3s at key times are crippling psychologically," Brey said.

Then there were the big drives and high-percentage shots.

"You're hugging shooters on the other side," Brey said. "We really got caught ... You feel you can't help in the post. You're playing the post one-on-one. You didn't feel you could help off anybody.

"What happens when you do that, you're left on an island a little bit on the post. Your help-side is too worried about a shooter and I was worried about us getting in there too much.

"They were on a hot lunch from the 3-point line."

"We lacked defensive focus," said senior co-captain Pat Connaughton. "We gave up 83 points. It's going to be tough to win that way.

"We've gotta get better defensively and make sure we get the first rebound."

Five games out of the blocks, the Irish are already at a crossroads. Brey talked about this week, leading up to Friday night's visit from Santa Clara, will be spent "finding out who we are."

Notre Dame experienced an identity crisis throughout this pivotal game. Senior big man Tom Knight played eight ineffective minutes. The starter had one missed shot, one rebound and a turnover before putting on his sweats and calling it a day.

So much for that rotation.

Austin Burgett, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem all played significant minutes, with only Burgett making an impact worth noticing.

Nine first half turnovers helped dig a 10-point hole at intermission. Allowing the Sycamores to shoot 62 percent in the second half kept a furious comeback — and an eventual one-point lead (45-44 with 15:06 left in the game) — from sticking.

The momentum eroded in an 18-3 Indiana State run that spoiled Notre Dame's afternoon.

And failed to give fans a reason to watch.

Indiana State's Jake Kitchell is guarded by Notre Dame's Zach Zuguste in the first half Sunday November 17, 2013. at the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center. SBT photo/MIKE HARTMAN