Time running out for Notre Dame to escape funk

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Soooo … This is what a sense of urgency looks like?

More like a sense of despondency.

There’s a problem. What’s wrong could run deep enough to have an impact on the Notre Dame men’s basketball team’s postseason life over the next few weeks.

The ACC Tournament, as well as the NCAA Tournament, are no venues for a team lacking confidence.

Right now, that’s where it all starts.

This funk of epic proportions is happening at the absolute worst time.

Wednesday night’s 68-50 loss to Miami was Notre Dame’s fourth straight exercise in malaise. At least the other three, two of which were losses, could have been blamed on playing away from the friendly rims of Purcell Pavilion.

Even that excuse was missing Wednesday night.

Eight minutes into the game, trailing 21-3, it was already over. Guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia combined to shoot 3 of 22. Notre Dame never made a serious run to scale the mountain the Hurricanes had built.

It was as bad a performance as Notre Dame has had this season.

Time to panic? Irish coach Mike Brey is resisting the temptation. But, how does a coach manufacture confidence?

“That’s a fine line,” said Brey. “I don’t want to over-coach our guys. We have to work on our spacing offensively. Could we get some easy buckets in transition? That helps you.

“I’m not going to talk to (Jackson and Vasturia) about confidence. They’re starting Saturday (in the regular-season finale against North Carolina State). They better be ready to play the whole game.

“You have to play your way back into (some confidence) in practice and a game.”

Gotta play better than they did Wednesday night. Even on the rare times when the difference got in single digits late in the first half and midway through the second, it never seemed like the Irish would make a serious run.

“We’ve done it before,” Vasturia said of the art of manufacturing confidence from the bleak emptiness of a terrible loss. “We’ve won a lot of big games this year. We know we can do it.

“It comes back to getting back to what we do and doing it.”

Jackson, surrounded by media while sitting on a locker room couch post-game, looked like the weight of the world was just shoveled on his shoulders.

“You’ve gotta have togetherness,” Jackson said. “Your circle has to be tight. Our leaders, including myself, we have to lead better. We have to find ways to win games.

“It’s a team funk. We have to get out of it together. We’ve done it before at home; we’ve done it on the road. We have to get that confidence back.”

Confidence is an ambiguous intangible – but a very important intangible, though difficult to quantify.

It’s either there or it isn’t.

Swagger is as significant to a player as a good post move, or a drive to the hoop.

A week before the start of the most crucial part of the season is no time for the well to run dry.

Earlier this week, three games into this funk, Brey declared the sense of urgency. As it continues with no end in sight, he has a challenge: Drastic measures, or hope for a cure with a sudden infusion of confidence.

Time’s running out.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey watches his team on defense during the first half of Miami's 68-50 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 2, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (Tribune Photo/Robert Franklin)