Time for Notre Dame to turn page after North Carolina upset

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Forget about that unwritten 24-hour rule sports teams typically follow to savor a big win before moving on to the next challenge.

Notre Dame freshman guard Rex Pflueger insists he and the guys in the locker room refused to give themselves even 24 minutes to bask in Saturday’s big win over No. 2 North Carolina.

Everything about the evening was magical and memorable — from erasing what had been a 15-point deficit, to playing inspired ball much of the second half to the end-of-game court storming by the student body. But long before the Purcell Pavilion maintenance crew had finished mopping the playing court late Saturday night, Pflueger and the Irish already had refocused.

They had no choice. Less than 48 hours after that win, Notre Dame (16-7; 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) is in South Carolina to finish a swing of four league games in nine days against Clemson (14-9; 7-4).

But what about that conquest of Carolina?

“That game’s in the past right now,” Pflueger said not even 30 minutes after the final horn sounded on an 80-76 Irish win. “If you keep dwelling on the past, then you’re going to get lackadaisical.”

But … but …

“You stay in the moment for that time of the moment, then when it’s gone, move on to the next one,” Pflueger said. “Clemson’s a very good team. We’ve got to prepare for them. We’ve got to find a way to get energized.”

All Notre Dame has to do is bottle that second-half performance it unleashed against a North Carolina team that seemed on cruise control for the game’s first 26 minutes. The Irish had trouble defending, had trouble rebounding, had trouble making shots. Just when everything seemingly was going wrong for the home team, the script flipped.

Notre Dame dug in and defended. It held Carolina to one-and-done missed opportunities on one end, then crashed the glass with reckless abandon on the other end to finish with 20 offensive rebounds and 34 points in the paint. The Irish guards drove the lane determined to finish or get fouled. Just as it did last month when Notre Dame hung 95 points on the Cameron Indoor Stadium center court scoreboard in an upset of Duke, everything fell into place.

Can the Irish find that second half magic on the road? Notre Dame has lost two straight league games away from home. It has trailed by at least 20 points in each. If the Irish can be that attentive to detail at home against the Tar Heels, it should do it on the road against a Clemson team that lost Saturday at Virginia Tech, right?

Right?

“We’ve got to bring our edge; we’ve got to bring that toughness inside the paint, bring that toughness sliding our feet, taking a stand, keeping guys out of the lane,” said Irish guard Demetrius Jackson. “We’ve had it here and there, but we’ve just got to bring it more consistently.”

Coming off Wednesday’s loss at Miami (Fla.), Irish coach Mike Brey aimed to get through this stretch of multiple league games in a short window at 1-1. Find a way to split, get home, get a couple days of rest and get ready for a visit from No. 19 Louisville.

But the way the Irish operated Saturday, when they played with a toughness and a tenacity that hasn’t always shown but often does when the lights are brightest, has Brey rethinking his 1-1 wish.

Beating the league’s first-place team has Notre Dame thinking big; thinking about a late run up the league standings and chasing another double-bye in the conference tournament; thinking a whole lot less about 1-1 and a whole lot more about 2-0.

“I’m getting greedy again,” Brey said. “We’ve put ourselves in position here after (Saturday). Let’s not waste it.”

It’s been a tale of two very different Notre Dame teams the last four league road games. One was really good, really focused, really together in early road wins against Boston College (by an ACC school record 28 points) and Duke. One wasn’t very good, wasn’t very focused, wasn’t very together in recent road trips to Syracuse (81-66 loss) and Miami (79-70 loss).

How do the Irish do what they did in those first two and forget how they worked in the last two? Getting off to better starts would be a good start. Notre Dame trailed big (down by at least 12 in the first half of both) early in its two most recent road games.

“We’ve got to come out with the same passion that we had (in Saturday’s second half),” junior swingman V.J. Beachem said. “We don’t have our home crowd behind us, but we just have to play with passion and heart.”

Monday is a unique trip for Notre Dame in that it’s really not a true road game. With its arena undergoing a $63.5-million renovation, Clemson is playing all 17 of its home games at the Bon Secours Wellness Center in Greenville, a 30-mile crawl of a commute from campus.

Clemson rarely practices at Bon Secours. The Tigers see the building only on gamedays. For weekday games, they spend much of the early part of the day in class before busing 45 minutes to Greenville and checking into an area hotel. They follow a routine much like a road team – afternoon shoot-around at the arena, team dinner, then a bus trip back to the arena for the game. Afterward, they bus back together to campus.

“That’s the part of it that people don’t understand – the wear and tear on your guys and the extra time commitment to doing all those things and the amount of time you spend together,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “You don’t get away from each other much, so you better like each other.

“It’s hard. It’s challenging.”

Clemson offers its share of challenges to Notre Dame. The Tigers are big. They’re physical. They like to lean on opponents and methodically grind them down to playing their style. They’ve rallied around having to play this season as vagabonds.

Other than stretching out, getting loose and shooting a few shots Sunday and Monday, Notre Dame will have had zero to no practice time since Saturday. The Irish need to be ready. After what happened back on campus, they believe they will be.

“When we lock in defensively and have our offense flowing, it’s going to be hard to guard us,” said senior power forward Zach Auguste. “I feel like we can play with any team in the country.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (16-7 overall; 7-4 ACC) vs. Clemson (14-9; 7-4).

WHERE: Bon Secours Wellness Arena (15,951), Greenville, S.C.

WHEN: Monday at 9 p.m.

TV: ESPNU.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

WORTH NOTING: Landry Nnoko scored 17 points with 12 rebounds and eight blocks and Jordan Roper added 16 points Saturday in Clemson’s 60-57 loss at Virginia Tech. … After winning five in a row (Syracuse, Louisville, Duke, Miami (Fla.) and Pittsburgh), Clemson is 2-3 in its last five. Clemson went 4-1 in January in facing five consecutive ranked teams … The Tigers are 11-2 overall, 5-0 in ACC play at “home” this season. Their two losses are to Alabama and South Carolina. … Clemson averages 69.1 points per game and allows 63.0. … One of three players averaging double figures for points, Jaron Blossomgame, leads the team in scoring at 16.8. … The Tigers went 6-2 in January, their most wins in the month since 1996-97. … Clemson was picked in preseason to finish 12th in the ACC. … Clemson and Notre Dame are tied for fifth in the ACC, but tied for fourth in terms of tournament seeding with Louisville ineligible. ... Notre Dame leads the all-time series 3-0 with all three meetings as conference colleagues. … Notre Dame last played at Bon Secours Arena during the 2002 NCAA tournament when it was known as the Bi-Lo Center. Playing as the No. 8 seed in the South Region, Notre Dame beat No. 9 Charlotte, 82-63, in the first round before a loss to No. 1 seed and top-ranked Duke, 84-77. … Guard Demetrius Jackson became the 58th player in school history to hit for at least 1,000 career points during Saturday’s win over No. 2 North Carolina. … Irish senior power forward A.J. Burgett will be a gametime decision. The captain missed Saturday’s win after suffering a sprained ankle Friday in practice. … Irish senior power forward Zach Auguste has 13 double doubles for points and rebounds this season and 18 for his career following 15 points and 10 rebounds against North Carolina. … Notre Dame returns to action Saturday against No. 19 Louisville. The final Irish home game of February already is a sellout.

WORTH QUOTING: “We saw a lot of good habits. We want to stay on each other to continue those good habits. We’ve got to stay mentally locked in. We want to continue to build on it.”

-Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson on getting back to work following Saturday’s win over No. 2 North Carolina.