Notes: Power forward Martinas Geben back in basketball groove

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Being out of the rotation sight for the better part of a school-record six-game Atlantic Coast Conference win streak could have driven Notre Dame junior power forward Martinas Geben out of his mind.

Instead, he vowed to be better the next time he got the call, a call he had to constantly convince himself again would come. When it did, he had to be ready.

It did and he was.

After logging his first DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision) of the season in wins over North Carolina State and Georgia Tech, Geben rolled back into the rotation during Wednesday’s 82-66 win over Boston College. One of the first reserves off the bench after not getting off it the previous 80 minutes, Geben scored six points with four rebounds, an assist and a steal in 10 minutes.

Job One for the No. 19 Irish (23-7; 12-5 ACC) was to stretch their win streak to six by sending seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia out with success. Right behind that on the to-do list may have been to get Geben going again.

Going big will have to be an option the deeper the Irish venture into postseason. That means getting Geben back in gear.

“I just talked to him the last couple days to be ready,” coach Mike Brey said. “Wasn’t anything (Austin) Torres didn’t do, it was, give some minutes to Martin to kind of make him feel good about himself and I think he did.”

Wednesday was the first time in eight games that Geben played double-digit minutes. It was the most points he had scored since going for seven nine games ago.

His minutes were the collateral damage of Brey’s lineup change, which basically changed the course of the season after Notre Dame found itself stuck in the rut of a four-game league losing streak.

Never mind that it had lost during that stretch to three ranked teams – Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Notre Dame had struggled to do what it typically does best – cut and move and score. Brey decided following the Feb. 5 loss to North Carolina to go small, which eliminated a big’s role.

Basically, Geben’s role.

Still, he arrived at practice every day willing to work and stay on Brey’s mind. He had to trust in the process, the process that the rotation cycle would come back around to a point where No. 23 again was needed.

It was tough.

“Nobody knows that for a fact, but you just have to work every day to make it come back around,” Geben said. “Everybody’s human. Everybody has emotions so frustration does factor into it. You just have to deal with it and fight through that adversity.”

In some ways, losing his job – he started the season’s first 23 games – was good for Geben. It allowed him to step back and take a look at the big basketball picture. The deeper he dove into his first season as a main guy, the more uncomfortable he became. With his minutes. His role. With everything.

Sitting – and sometimes stewing – allowed him to freshen that perspective.

“I’m putting less pressure on myself,” he said. “I was thinking too much about the game, but being away from (the starting lineup), took that pressure off.”

It also allowed him to again understand that it’s not about him. Wasn’t his first two years when he barely played on teams that advanced to consecutive Elite Eights. Wasn’t when the Irish lost four in a row, and isn’t now that they’ve had their recent run of success.

“It’s whatever Coach thinks is best for the team; I have to trust his plan and trust that he knows better,” Geben said. “The goal, ultimately, is to win, not for me to perform well or anybody else to perform well individually.”

Geben played Wednesday as well as he had in weeks. He battled around the bucket. He moved the ball. And when he got it back, he finished, like the two-handed dunk in Wednesday’s second half where his 6-foot-10, 255-frame threatened to do some serious damage to one of the arena rims.

For Geben, it was a good start to a month after a tough previous one.

“I’ve been telling him, man, just stay ready,” said junior power forward Bonzie Colson. “His mind is great. He’s waiting for his opportunity again and he’s going to take full advantage.”

Mazza moment

Prior to Wednesday’s closing seconds, Notre Dame power forward Patrick Mazza was known more for what he ALMOST did in one career play on the football field than what he’s done on the basketball court. At least, in the college game.

A two-time Bookstore Basketball champion, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound graduate student is a former walk-on defensive end on the Irish football team. He was on the field in 2015 in the closing seconds of the football loss to Stanford, when he almost blocked the Cardinal’s game-winning field goal.

Prior to Wednesday, he had played in three minutes over three games with zeroes across his stat line in his lone season.

That all changed in a productive 60 seconds Wednesday. Mazza swatted a shot at one end. On the other, he turned it over the first time he touched it, then missed a chance from close in with a second.

He’d make the most of his third.

An Elijah Burns steal got Mazza the ball right at the rim, and he finished with a two-handed dunk that sent the Irish bench and the building into a frenzy. He then grabbed the game's final rebound.

"Its' been awesome, truly a blessing (with) such a special group of guys, special program," Mazza told the crowd afterward. "I'm extremely grateful for it."

Streaking

According to Brian Morrison, the ACC associate commissioner for basketball communications, Notre Dame is the first team in the 64-year history of the conference to have multiple win streaks of at least five games and a losing streak of at least four games in the same season.

The Irish opened ACC play with five straight wins, including three in a row on the road. Notre Dame then lost four in a row and five of six from late January to early February. The Irish have won a current league best six straight games heading into Saturday's season finale.

"It's been two major ups and a one big down in terms of conference play to be where we are," said Beachem.

A win over No. 8 Louisville would bump Notre Dame alongside Duke and North Carolina as the only teams in the league this season to have won seven straight conference games.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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If…..and…..then….

One game remains in the regular season for No. 19 Notre Dame (23-7; 12-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), but multiple scenarios exist for the Irish and their conference tournament plans next week in Brooklyn.

Following are five scenarios as computed by the 2017 ACC men’s basketball generator and tiebreaker at bball.nothing.net that might play out on the season’s final Saturday.

• IF Notre Dame beats Louisville AND Duke beats North Carolina, THEN Notre Dame and North Carolina share the regular-season league championship with both teams 13-5.

The Tar Heels would win the tie-breaker based on their regular-season win over the Irish. Notre Dame would be the No. 2 seed and open ACC tournament play Thursday at 7 p.m. against the winner of No. 10 Wake Forest/No. 15 Boston College and No. 7 Virginia Tech.

• IF Notre Dame beats Louisville AND North Carolina beats Duke, Florida State beats Miami (Fla.), THEN Notre Dame would finish alone in second place and be the No. 2 seed at 13-5.

The Irish would open tournament play Thursday at 7 p.m. against the winner of No. 10 Wake Forest/No. 15 Boston College and No. 7 Duke.

• IF Notre Dame loses to Louisville, AND North Carolina beats Duke, Florida State beats Miami, THEN there would be a three-way tie for second place with Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame at 12-6.

Based on round-robin records, Notre Dame would be the No. 3 seed and open tournament play Thursday at 9:30 p.m. against the winner of No. 11 Georgia Tech/No. 14 Pittsburgh and No. 6 Duke.

• IF Notre Dame loses to Louisville AND Duke beats North Carolina, Florida State beats Miami, THEN four teams – Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame would be tied for second place at 12-6.

Based on round-robin records, Notre Dame would be the No. 5 seed and open tournament play Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of No. 12 Clemson and No. 13 North Carolina State.

• IF Notre Dame loses to Louisville AND Duke beats North Carolina, Miami beats Florida State, THEN there would be a three-way tie for second place with Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame all at 12-6.

Based on round-robin records, Notre Dame would be the No. 4 seed and open tournament play Thursday at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of No. 12 Clemson/No. 13 North Carolina State and No. 5 Florida State.

-Tom Noie