Notes: Notre Dame men's hoops no strangers to Barclays Center

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Early-season tournament excursions often surface with a purpose at this point on the Notre Dame men’s basketball calendar.

After a couple of warm-up games at Purcell Pavilion, it’s time for the Irish to understand the rhythm of the road and learn how to handle their business away from home.

The travel. The strategy sessions in the hotel. The down time. The game-day preparation. The focus of playing two games in a quick window. The adjustment to an atmosphere of a new arena.

Scratch that last one.

When Notre Dame arrives Monday morning for shoot-around in advance of a 7 p.m. tip (ESPN2) against Colorado in the semifinals of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, it will be business as usual in the billion-dollar Barclays Center.

“We love that building,” said coach Mike Brey.

The Irish last were at the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues almost exactly eight months ago. That’s where Notre Dame roared back to beat Michigan and Stephen F. Austin on March 18 and 20 to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said sophomore guard Rex Pflueger, whose last-second tip helped beat Stephen F. Austin in the second round. “It’s going to be fun to get back in that atmosphere. It’s a great one.”

There shouldn’t be many wide-eyed Irish guys. They understand the faster pace of that borough life. They’ve ridden the bus elevator that takes them from street level to the arena basement. They know the court. The state-of-the-art lighting. The NBA-type atmosphere. They also draw well out there with so many players (six) with East Coast ties.

It was a home away from home in March. Can it be again?

“It will be cool for us,” Pflueger said. “We just have to go in there and handle our business.”

Notre Dame is 3-1 all-time at Barclays. Prior to last season’s NCAA tournament success, Notre Dame lost to Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in overtime before beating Brigham Young in the 2012 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

This is the first of two Irish trips this season into Barclays, which hosts the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament come March.

 Beachem breaks

Senior swingman V.J. Beachem is averaging a team-high 28.3 minutes per game, yet on Friday, he was the first starter subbed for less than six minutes in when Pflueger came for him.

The early break is by design.

“I’ve subbed for him early because he’s a guy that can get a little more winded,” Brey said. “His heart rate really revs and he can get fatigued and he’s doing more.”

Beachem, who finished with 21 points in 29 minutes, at one point gave Brey a look that told him he preferred to be on the floor longer. He felt good and didn’t really need a rest.

“That’s my fault,” Brey said. “I grabbed him, I said, ‘Look, you’re going to be back in there. I’m getting you a rest. I got you. You’re going to get your minutes, but I’m to keep you fresh.’”

Beachem was subbed out for four times Friday. Twice he spent less than a minute on the bench before returning. He was out for 2:35 late in the first half, then left for good with 6:17 remaining and the Irish up by 28.

 Mooney matters

Freshman power forward John Mooney made the most of his limited minutes Friday.

Mooney played only seven minutes, which tied for the team low, but finished with a career-high seven points to go with four rebounds and a steal.

The boss noticed.

“We need to keep him engaged,” Brey said. “He’s going to be important to us.”

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Mooney and sophomore power forward Elijah Burns have split time as the 10th man in a rotation that rarely goes past nine.

 Passing fancy

Brey returned home one late night last week and turned on NBA League Pass to watch a Golden State Warriors game. He was hit with a thought when a graphic flashed on the screen that said the Warriors had gone five-straight games with at least 30 assists.

“Why can’t we get 20 (a game)?” Brey wondered. “That should be ours – in a college game, 40 minutes, how about 20?

“They’ve really hung their hat on that. It’s beautiful to watch.”

After going for 15 assists in the season opener nine days ago, Notre Dame hit for 23 assists in each of its next two games.

The Irish registered at least 20 assists only twice last season.

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Notre Dame's Rex Pflueger, center, and Matt Farrell, left, celebrate with teammate Matt Ryan after Pflueger's tip-in in the closing seconds of a second-round NCAA tournament game at Barclays Center last March. (AP File Photo/FRANK FRANKLIN III)