Season spiraling out of control for ND men

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- This was a “backs-against-the-wall” type of basketball game for Notre Dame.

Virginia supplied the firing squad.

The Cavaliers’ 68-53 thumping of the Irish Tuesday night was just the latest Atlantic Coast Conference lesson in humility for the new guys on the block.

At least the other five fits of frustration were competitive. Loss No. 6 was littered with wasted offensive possessions and defensive lapses.

The sand in this season’s hourglass is quickly running out — while the Irish are mired in the muck of an identity crisis. Notre Dame is a bad game against Boston College Saturday away from being .500. And then there’s Syracuse Monday. Not to mention North Carolina Feb. 8.

Uh oh.

Just who are these guys? What do they do well?

“We’re still searching,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “You would hope at this point of the season, you would (know what you do well) on at least one end of the floor. We really don’t have it on either right now, that we can count on. That’s a little bit of a dilemma: Where do you go first?

“There can always be defensive effort. You can always start with that. As far as offensively, when your three ‘old’ guys can’t find a very good rhythm, I don’t know if we’ll beat anybody.”

Don’t pin anything on the losses of Jerian Grant or Austin Burgett. Those are excuses. Brey has the hand he’s been dealt. His job is to figure out how to turn that hand into a winner.

He’s done it before. The Irish have lost key players in the past and still survived.

Trouble is, the Irish didn’t do anything particularly well Tuesday night.

When his three leaders — Garrick Sherman, Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton — combine for 21 points, six assists, 11 turnovers and 8-of-23 shooting, there’s trouble.

Defense didn’t click. The Cavaliers shot 60 percent in the first half and didn’t deviate much from that the rest of the night, ending at 54 percent. Baskets — inside and outside — came too easily.

Taking care of the ball was hardly a priority. Notre Dame had 13 turnovers by halftime and 20 for the game. Quality possessions are essential for what Brey used to call his “burn” offense.

Ssssooooo, should the Irish try to outscore teams? Averaging 68 points in their seven ACC games won’t qualify for offensive juggernaut status.

What now? Brey’s got four days to come up with an answer.

The clock’s ticking.

“Can you figure out who you are before the ACC tournament is probably realistic for who this team is,” Brey said. “Can we find some identity en route to that?

“That’s where we’re at.”

Midway through the first half and the Irish down by 10, Zach Auguste, all 6-foot-10 and 242 pounds of him, found a free lane to the bucket. Instead of a rim-rattling dunk to light up Purcell Pavillion, he chose a soft layup — and missed.

Before the first half was 12 minutes old, the Irish had committed their 10th turnover and trailed by 14 points. Every 50-50 ball seemed to find its way into the Cavaliers’ hands.

Even a few 60-40s.

The only sign of life came in the closing minutes of the first half. Demetrius Jackson came off the bench to spark a 12-2 run that cut a 20-point Virginia lead in half. The freshman drained a 3-pointer, hit (literally) Tom Knight with a nifty pass that Knight ultimately turned into a layup, then got a layup in traffic.

Add to that four rare defensive stops and, when intermission finally happened, Notre Dame trailed 34-24.

Took about four minutes of the second half for Virginia to get that lead back.

A wasted opportunity.

And a season that is quickly spiraling out of control. | 574-235-6318

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste (30) chases down a wayward pass during Tuesday's game at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)