Notes: Memorable basketball milestone for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

A former high school history teacher made some of his own Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame’s find-a-way 75-70 victory over Clemson was college game No. 700 for Irish coach Mike Brey, whose coaching career began in 1982 as a junior varsity coach/history teacher at DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School.

Brey’s first game as a college coach at Delaware was Nov. 27, 1995. It was a 100-58 victory over Washington (Md.) College.

“Thank God my faculties are good and I have a good memory,” Brey said. “I’ll be with one of my Delaware guys and they’ll bring up a game against Northeastern and I’ll remember the plays.”

Same goes for his Notre Dame days, which started in 2000-01. Assistant coach Ryan Humphrey and coordinator of basketball operations Harold Swanagan might reminisce about a game they played together as teammates over a decade ago. Brey also will remember it.

“I’ll even remember what I said,” he said. “I’ve been really fortunate to be in this profession as long as I am. I’ve had really good players and great assistants.”

Saturday saw the 57-year-old Brey join some select company. Of the current 351 Division I college coaches, only 35 have coached in at least 700 games. Of those 700, 469 are wins for Brey, including 370 at Notre Dame.

At 370-179 overall, Brey sits 24 victories away from surpassing Digger Phelps (393 in 20 seasons) as the all-time winningest coach in Notre Dame history. He's 42 games shy of eclipsing Phelps' school record for games coached (590).

Now in his 17th season at Notre Dame, and 22nd as a college head coach, does Brey have another 700 in him?

“I hope so,” Brey said. “What would that be? That would be a while.”

That would take Brey roughly through 2038.

Constructive criticism

Irish guard Matt Farrell was the first to admit it after Saturday’s win — he was bad in the first half. Really bad.

Like stink-out-loud, have your coach cuss you out at intermission bad. Farrell, who’s taken the keys to the Irish car and driven it so hard and so well to date this season, had only three points and four turnovers in a forgettable first half.

But Brey and the Irish often have talked this season of wearing raincoats when times get tough. In other words, let any criticism from your coaches and teammates roll off your back. Don’t pout; just play.

Farrell heard it from Brey as well as from teammate Bonzie Colson, who didn’t hold back when assessing the point guard’s play.

“He’s like my brother, man, I feel like we have a great relationship,” Colson said. “He stayed with the raincoat. I just said, ‘Hey man, you’re good. Wake up. Don’t overthink.’”

Farrell responded with 12 points and three assists to no turnovers in all 20 minutes of the second half. He also saved his best for last. Farrell scored eight points, including two critical 3-pointers and an assist on another 3, this one from Steve Vasturia, in the final four minutes.

“That was good for us, especially for me, to bounce back like that,” Farrell said.

Back in time

Halftime was not happy time Saturday in the Irish locker room. Not after Notre Dame (14-2; 3-0 ACC) trailed 10-0 in the opening two minutes, then allowed a season high for points (40) and field-goal percentage (53.1 percent) against a Clemson team that just kept punching with the Irish offering little resistance or response.

Brey, Farrell said “came in hot” to the room, which saw him boot a trash can.

“We were a mess,” said Brey, who also used the word "horrible" to describe the Irish defensive effort the first 20 minutes.

“Some things tipped over in the locker room, but we picked them back up.”

The moment took sophomore guard Rex Pflueger back to his California roots.

“It brought me back to high school,” said Pflueger who played for legendary Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight his final two years of high school. “I haven’t seen that. We needed that.”

Road trip

Brey planned to give the Irish off Sunday and possibly Monday with what’s closing quickly.

For the second time in as many seasons and third in four as an Atlantic Coast Conference member, the Irish get three straight league road games starting Thursday in South Florida against Miami (Fla.). From there, it’s a quick turnaround and a long trip to Blacksburg, Va., and another Saturday afternoon game, this one against No. 21 Virginia Tech.

Following a quick trip back to South Bend, Notre Dame heads to Tallahassee and the Jan. 18 showdown against No. 12 Florida State, the only other undefeated team left in league play.

“We’ve got three tough ones on the road,” Brey said. “It’s going to be hard.”

Notre Dame is winless – 0-2 at both spots – at Miami and at Florida State since joining the ACC.

The Irish went 1-2 in three straight on the road in 2013-14 (win at Boston College, losses at Miami and Virginia) and 1-2 last season (win at Wake Forest, losses at Georgia Tech and Florida State).

Crazy conference

When Brey’s thoughts turned toward league play as they annually do on Christmas night, he figured it was going to be a crazy ride. He never thought that it would be so wild and wacky so soon.

The first full week of league play has seen 13 of the 15 teams lose a conference game. For as many twists and turns as there have been – Duke losing at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech beating North Carolina, Virginia losing twice – there’s more madness to follow.

“I tell you, I’m not shocked because I knew the league was really balanced and people would be taking punches,” Brey said. “I certainly expected to take one or two already. I am thrilled that we’re sitting at 3-0.

“It’s a great way to start this league.”

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Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey gets excited as his team takes a lead late in the second half of Saturday's victory over Clemson. (AP Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN