Noie: Trying times test Notre Dame men's basketball resolve
Sometimes when the struggles suffocate success, someone needs to say something.
This is where the Notre Dame men’s basketball team currently resides. Following a seventh-straight loss – Saturday’s 76-58 setback to North Carolina State at PNC Arena — Irish coach Mike Brey talked to his team about getting back home, getting healthier and getting on track this week with two home games starting Tuesday against Boston College.
When Brey left for his post-game meeting with the media and his staff adjourned to a side room, players were left by themselves. They could have showed and dressed and exited for the bus quickly and quietly. What was there to say? But then one player spoke up. Another followed. Then a third.
It didn’t matter if it was graduate student Austin Torres, coming off a career game for points (nine) and minutes (27), or senior captains Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben or sophomore T.J. Gibbs. Anyone who had something to say during an impromptu players-only meeting could speak. Many did. Though frustration hung in the air following arguably Notre Dame’s most lackluster effort of the season, the Irish (13-10 overall; 3-7 ACC) made sure to clear it before heading for the bus, for their charter flight, for home.
“We talked when the coaches left the locker room,” Torres said. “I told these guys that I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else but this group that we have. We’re family. We’ve got to believe.
“We’ve got to stop with the frustration and the bad body language and come together.”
Following a home loss to Virginia Tech the previous Saturday, Brey instituted a new team rule – no showing any signs of frustration. Yes, it’s hard for the Irish to handle what they’re going through. The shots aren’t falling; the wins aren’t coming. But let frustration fester and everything the Irish are trying to do to turn this around gets that much more difficult. It's moved past that point.
“We’ve got cracks, for sure,” said senior point guard Matt Farrell. “We’re taking punches, but we’re not going to break. The culture, the guys we have, it’s too strong.”
That culture’s really been tested the last two games, maybe like never before during Brey’s tenure. In the first five league losses, the Irish competed and put themselves in position to win, but just didn’t. The average margin of defeat was 5.2 points.
But Notre Dame wasn’t very good last week in a 22-point loss at No. 9 Duke. Still, the mean mugs and bad body language generally stayed away. Not Saturday after the Irish dropped into an early 9-0 deficit in a game they trailed by as many as 30.
As the deficit deepened, the body language worsened. With every missed shot. Every turnover. Every missed defensive assignment. It was difficult to watch a team that has led for all of nine seconds in the last two games.
“It’s not high school; it’s not middle school,” said Farrell, who was guilty of some of it with five turnovers in his first game back from a bone bruise to his left ankle. “We can’t have that right now. People miss shots, you can’t make a face.
“It’s not about us individually; it’s about something bigger.”
Being so short-handed the previous eight games, it had been about scoring enough points to stay competitive. The Irish haven’t. They’re averaging 66.3 points in league play, which ranks 11th. Notre Dame was able to compensate for anemic offense with a collective commitment to guard and rebound. The Irish have been out-rebounded in each of the last two games and have allowed an average of 82 points.
When the offense isn’t there and the defense isn’t there and the rebounding isn’t there, there’s not a whole lot left there. A loss Tuesday would stretch Notre Dame’s streak to eight, longest since 1965-66 and a fourth-straight at home. That hasn’t happened since 1992-93.
“We’ve got to get back to defending,” Farrell said. “Nobody’s perfect, but we can be perfect together.”
That players-only meeting Saturday afternoon in Raleigh was expected to carry over to Sunday. The Irish planned to watch the Super Bowl together as a team, and also expected to revisit what each player can do better.
“We’ll meet, discuss what we need to do with each individual and what they think they bring better to the team,” Torres said. “We just move forward and try and get one Tuesday.”
At this point, one might do wonders for a team that still believes. Believes it can do enough to get back to the NCAA tournament. Believes this season still can be special. Believes that they have enough to win. Believes in one another. They keep reiterating all of it after each loss. One way to reinforce everything would be a win. It would be the first in 30 days.
“We can use one,” Brey said of a win. “One can sometimes change the climate a little.”
In this case, a whole lot.
WHO: Notre Dame (13-10; 3-7 ACC) vs. Boston College (14-9; 4-6).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).
WHEN: Tuesday at 8 p.m.
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: Ky Bowman scored eight of his 17 points in overtime to lead Boston College to an 80-72 victory Sunday at home over Georgia Tech. Fellow guards Jordan Chatman and Jerome Robinson each scored 17 points. The win snapped a three-game league losing streak for the Eagles. It marked the seventh time this season that the Eagles erased a double-digit deficit to tie or take the lead in a game and the fourth time they’ve come back to win after trailing by at least 10 points. … Boston College is 0-4 on the road in league play and 5-35 since Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013-14. The Eagles went 0-9 on the road in league play each of the last two seasons. Their last league road win was March 2, 2015 at Virginia Tech. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 19-10, 8-0 as ACC colleagues. The Irish have won nine in a row and 13 of 14 since the Eagles’ last win, Feb. 4, 2004. Boston College last won at Notre Dame on Jan. 11, 1997. … Boston College is one of four repeat opponents. The teams meet Feb. 17 in Chestnut Hill.
QUOTING: “You look for some silver linings when you’re in the midst of what we’re in right now. We’re still scratching and clawing and trying to figure it out.”
-Notre Dame coach Mike Brey on his team’s seven-game league losing streak.