Notre Dame men's basketball: Connaughton picks up on three-second message

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS Not even three minutes into the second half, Pat Connaughton was issued a passive challenge. The Notre Dame men's basketball team's 6-foot-4 junior marksman has been around long enough to recognize the issue being dangled in front of him. The stat sheet from the first 20 minutes of the 79-72 Irish win over Indiana in the Crossroads Classic Saturday was enough to frame the predicament. Notre Dame's second-leading scorer (about 14 points a game) played just 14 of those minutes (because of two fouls), missed his only shot and had three rebounds. If it weren't for those numbers, he might have been considered AWOL. Connaughton did very little to distinguish himself as the Irish raced to a 47-42 halftime lead. "(Connaughton) was in a little foul trouble and maybe a little less aggressive (in the first half)," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "Eventually, we find him, and he finds ways ... One thing about our veteran perimeter guys, and (Garrick Sherman), and Tom Knight, those five guys — over time, they learn what a defense will give them because they've played so much together. They kind of pick their spots." When Connaughton was replaced by Knight with 17:26 left in the game and the score tied at 47, Connaughton knew the message being sent by Brey. "When you get pulled real quick in the second half, you have to prove why you should stay in the game when you go back in," Connaughton said, explaining one of the unwritten challenges of the game. "I learned that as a freshman in the program. I knew I didn't have a great first half. I still had to play the game the way I play the game." Connaughton plays it as a long-range marksman. He was inserted back in the lineup three seconds later. On the next possession, the ball rotation picked up Connaughton open on the wing. He found nothing but net on a 3-pointer. That bucket was the start of quite a run that played a significant role in the Irish victory. He connected on 5-of-6 shots and all three 3-pointers in the second half. With 4:55 left in the game and Notre Dame clinging to a two-point lead, Connaughton found the bottom of the net with a 3-pointer to keep the Hoosiers from making a significant charge. He finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. "My teammates, my coaches (gave the confidence to hit those critical shots)," Connaughton said. "They've always told me to shoot ball. I'm not a kid that wants to force it. In the first half, these guys were rolling. I was going to try to find ways to have a positive effect in other ways."The second half, I had open shots. I was just able to knock them down." It's not like Connaughton had a lot going for him when he stepped up and became a factor in the second half. For starters, history wasn't on his side. The last four games, in which the Irish have gone 2-2, Connaughton has averaged 18 points. He has shot 23 of 56 (41 percent) from the field and 13 of 34 (40 percent) from 3-point range. There was no margin for error with Saturday's game on the line. On a more personal note, he wasn't exactly in the best physical shape of his life. Connaughton missed the team's morning shoot-around at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a splitting headache. "I don't know what it was. I don't know how to explain it,"Connaughton said of his pre-game condition. "It felt like my brain was coming out of my skull; like it was too big. It was terrible." Could that be what studying for exams does to a guy? A little medicine and a power nap put Connaughton back on the road to recovery. "I got (to the arena) earlier than the team and got some shots in then," he said. "It cleared (up) before the game. I guess the repercussions didn't come out until the second half." Amazing what three seconds on the bench can do for a guy. ALesar@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6318

Notre Dame guard/forward Pat Connaughton (24) drives into the paint during a mens NCAA college basketball game in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER