ACC Notes: Confidence not issue for Notre Dame sophomore Matt Ryan

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK – Good days and bad have dominated the sophomore season of Notre Dame small forward Matt Ryan.

Friday was bad early, but one that Ryan flipped into a really good one late.

Able to play double-digit minutes in a close contest for the first time since early December, Ryan delivered a big effort in Notre Dame's 77-73 victory over Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinal. Averaging 3.5 points in 7.6 minutes this season, Ryan scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes. It was the most minutes he played and the most points he's scored since Dec. 4, when he went for 17 in 18 minutes.

What was different about his contribution?

“I played more,” Ryan said. “I haven't changed. I just haven't been playing. My mindset stays the same.”

Ryan usually knows that if he scores, he plays. If he's in tune to what the Irish are doing defensively, he stays on the floor. Irish coach Mike Brey stayed with Ryan for longer stretches than usual Friday, and he delivered.

“When I'm moving offensively and hit a couple shots, Coach thinks I'm more locked in,” Ryan said. “And then I'm talking defensively and playing smart. That's what keeps me in the game.”

Ryan's day didn't start out well being back in his native New York and having played two scoreless minutes the previous night. Noticing that the player's body language wasn't the best during the afternoon shoot-around — the coach classified it as downright bad — Brey had a talk with Ryan. About his role. About his immediate future.

Flush the frustration, Brey offered Ryan, and focus. Now. He was going to get into the game earlier than usual, and likely would play longer than normal. Could he respond?

“He's not had the year he's wanted to have,” Brey said. “It's hard. I understand that (but) we needed to get him going. I give him a lot of credit. He has stayed tough, even though his minutes haven't been very consistent. To do that on this stage, fearless.”

For a long run in league play, the 6-foot-7 Ryan looked lost trying to figure how he fit. In the last few weeks, he's moved better without the ball — he even had a baseline drive and layup Friday — and has played far more relaxed. Like he's starting to get it.

“People don't understand, he's one of the best 3-point shooters in the country,” said Ryan's closest friend on the team, sophomore guard Rex Pflueger. “He's a very important part for us in postseason. He understands the game. He's always ready to go.”

True, Ryan said, except his number just hasn't been dialed..

“I sparked a little bit of a run in the first half, got everybody's energy going when I came in there,” he said. “I contributed.”

What did Friday do for Ryan moving forward?

“I don't think I'm going to miss,” he said. “Ever again.”

New wrinkle

Locking in defensively helped Notre Dame get some serious separation from Florida State in Friday's first half.

The Irish did it with a never-seen-before 1-2-2 zone, something that Brey had just put into the practice plan four days earlier. It then helped force 18 turnovers, an ACC season high by an Irish opponent.

“That gave us enough room to kind of get away from them a little bit,” Brey said. “I liked it better than our 2-3. It bought us some time.”

Notre Dame played no 2-3 zone Thursday or Friday.

The back line of the 1-2-2 featured two bigs – Bonzie Colson with either Martinas Geben or Austin Torres.

“It's kind of a make-it-work defense,” said senior captain V.J. Beachem. “It was really effective for us as far as negating their size and keeping guys out of the lane.”

The 1-2-2, which Beachem said kept everything “tight” forced Florida State to shoot 40.7 percent from the floor, including 0-for-7 from 3. The Seminoles then had sizzling shooting percentages of 60 percent from the field and 62.5 from 3 in the second half, but never did get closer than five points, even while outrebounding Notre Dame by 18.

Now can the Irish do it with defense one more time?

“We have to close this out the same way we played the first two games – defending the crap out of the other team,” said Pflueger, who tied his career high with five rebounds against the Seminoles. “Just play with 100 percent and go for it.”

Fatigue factor

Saturday's championship was the fourth game in as many days for Duke. Duke beat Clemson, Louisville and No. 1 seed North Carolina to reach the championship.

Like the Irish, the Blue Devils operate with a tight rotation. Five players all logged at least 28 minutes against the Tar Heels.

When Friday's semifinal ended and many Irish on the floor raised their arms in celebration, guard Matt Farrell took a few small, measured steps toward the bench and just exhaled. Then did it again. And again. He was gassed, but fighting through a third game in three nights wasn't going to matter much. Not now.

“That's not an excuse,” said Farrell, who played 37 and 36 minutes the first two nights. “We're not going to worry about that. We've got to play as hard as we've ever played for 40 minutes.”

Brooklyn bits

• Over its first two ACC tournament games, Notre Dame led for 74:36 out of a total of 80 minutes. The Irish trailed for all of 3:21.

• Incoming Irish recruit D.J. Harvey closed his prep career Saturday at DeMatha (Md.) Catholic in select company. Harvey and former Irish standout Adrian Dantley each started as freshmen with the Stags. Dantley won 117 games in his prep career. Harvey headed into Saturday's playoff game having won 118.

• Notre Dame stepped into Saturday's championship winners of eight of nine overall and seven straight at Barclays Center. The Irish owned an overall record of 7-1 in the building.

• Among the former Irish expected to attend Saturday's championship game were Jimmy Dillon, Martin Ingelsby, Rob Kurz and Dan Miller. Former Irish small forward Zach Hillesland worked the game as an analyst on the Irish radio network. Brey's coaching staff also features four former Irish.

• Notre Dame entered Saturday's championship having won five of seven against Duke as ACC colleagues. The Blue Devils won the lone regular-season meeting, 84-74, in South Bend.

• Saturday's game tipped just after 9 p.m. It was the earliest the Irish had played all week. Thursday's game started at 9:46, Friday's at 9:56.

• As the higher seeded team, Notre Dame had the choice of what color uniforms to wear. Beachem wasn't sure late Friday – really early Saturday morning – if the Irish would go with green or gold.

Notre Dame went with the green uniforms for the second-straight night.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

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@tnoieNDI