Notre Dame men search for hoops adversity answers

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Shuttling between the Joyce Center south parking lot and Purcell Pavilion this time of year requires members of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team to brave snow, wind and cold.

A warm pair of winter shoes is a must. A knit hat is key. A heavy coat works well. Gloves are good.

The Irish also make sure to never forget their raincoats.

The deeper that the No. 21 Irish venture through the 2016-17, especially given what they’ve had to deal with the last two Saturdays, that piece of outerwear likely is required for most practices and almost every film session here on out.

Raincoats speak to maintaining toughness – a mental toughness – Notre Dame needs when the criticism falls and the road gets rough. It all has to roll off their backs like rain.

After Saturday, it’s falling, and it’s rough.

“When a teammate challenges you, we’re not sensitive,” said coach Mike Brey. “We talk about putting the raincoat on – better have the raincoat on ‘cause I may get on you; your teammate may get on you. You can’t be, ‘I can’t believe he got on me.’

“We’ve gotten better in that area.”

Brey talked of raincoats days before an avalanche of adversity arrived for Notre Dame (9-2), now losers of two straight December games for the first time since 2003 following Saturday’s 86-81 setback to No. 15 Purdue at the Crossroads Classic. The Irish blew a 17-point lead. That came on the heels of an 11-point advantage disappearing the previous Saturday in an eight-point loss to top-ranked Villanova.

Prior to Dec. 10, raincoats were rarely needed. The first nine games were rather stress-free and fun. That likely was not the case Sunday when they worked their way through snow and wind outside for what promised to be an interesting afternoon inside heading into Monday’s game against Colgate (2-9).

Notre Dame was not in a happy place following the Villanova loss. After Saturday's loss, the mad meter moved further in the wrong direction.

“We’re definitely even more (ticked) than we were after Villanova,” said junior power forward Martinas Geben, who had one of his best games as a collegiate after going for a season-high nine points with six rebounds and a career-best three assists in a season-best 22 minutes. “We’ve shown that we can win tough games. Now we just need to execute down the stretch against other teams.”

If college games were limited to the first 20 minutes, Notre Dame would be undefeated and ranked among the nation’s best. The Irish might not be able to play any better than they did the first halves against Villanova (41 points on 51.5 percent shooting) and Purdue (52 points, 60.6 percent shooting, 58.3 percent from 3). But the game goes 40, and it’s the second 20 that’s been Kryptonite for Notre Dame.

As well as the Irish move and flow and work together as one on both ends in the first half, it all seemingly falls apart in the second. Did against Villanova (25 points scored, seven turnovers, 38 points allowed). Did again on Saturday (48 points allowed, 29 scored).

Time to look in the mirror. Maybe point a finger or two. And keep that raincoat handy, because it’s bound to be a bit unpleasant.

“Who are we going to be as a team?” wondered junior captain Bonzie Colson. “I’m tired of saying it’s a learning experience, but we just gotta toughen up and battle a little bit more and see who we’re going to be right now.”

Right now, nobody really knows. The Irish don’t. Brey doesn’t. He wondered late Saturday afternoon back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse what button might be the next to push.

Does the rotation need a shakeup? More of sophomore Rex Pflueger and freshman T.J. Gibbs? Are the starters playing too much? Can the interior defense improve? Might freshman power forward John Mooney get a chance to bring some interior toughness?

How can a team that looked so good, so fluid, so together in the first halves of its two biggest games look so uncertain in the second half?

The Irish believe it’s all on them.

“We got comfortable at halftime, just like the Villanova game,” said junior guard Matt Farrell, coming off career highs for points (22) and assists (10) for his first career double-double. “We can’t get comfortable, man. You just gotta want it more.

“We’ve got to take people’s hearts.”

Notre Dame did that early in non-league play with wipeout wins of 31, 35, 43 and 54 points. When the opponent was down, the Irish kept them down. But Chicago State and Seattle aren’t Villanova and Purdue. And Colgate and next week’s opponent, Saint Peter’s, aren’t Pittsburgh and Louisville, Notre Dame’s first two Atlantic Coast Conference contests.

The only purpose Monday serves Notre Dame is a chance to start practicing better 40-minute habits and again feel good about itself before the players scatter for Christmas.

They may do so back on the outside of the latest national rankings, which drop around noon Monday. They may be ranked; they may not be ranked. And that would be fine by the Irish. Dimming the national spotlight may be just what this group needs now for later.

“It will give us a sense of humbleness,” Geben said, “to not get ahead of ourselves and think too much of ourselves.”

And to keep those raincoats handy.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: No. 21 Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Colgate (2-9).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Monday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Plenty available.

TV: None.

INTERNET: ACC Network Extra at WatchESPN.com

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.

NOTING: Colgate has been idle since a 74-66 home loss Dec. 10 to Albany. Guard Francisco Amiel scored 21 points for the Raiders, who have lost five straight. … Colgate has wins over Cornell and Union. … The Raiders are 1-5 on the road. ... Located in Hamilton, N.Y., Colgate returns three starters off last year’s team that finished 13-17, 9-9 in the Patriot League. That included two victories over eventual regular-season conference champion Bucknell, where Irish assistant coach Ryan Ayers worked last year. … The Raiders were picked this preseason to finish sixth in the 10-team Patriot League. … Colgate ranks fifth in the league in scoring offense (71.4 ppg.), ninth in scoring defense (76.4), seventh in field goal percentage (43.3) and third in 3-point field goal percentage (36.8). Nine players average at least 12 minutes per game. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 4-0. This is the first meeting since a 94-63 Irish victory on Nov. 26, 2007. … Irish associate head coach Rod Balanis spent four years as an assistant at Colgate. … The Irish have been outrebounded by an average of nine rebound the last two games.

QUOTING: “The confidence is high. We know how good we can play, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

• Notre Dame junior guard Matt Farrell.