Noie: Can Notre Dame find way to compete against Duke?

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ND Insider

A college campus on weekend mornings often is a cold and dark and quiet place.

Kind of mirrors the current mood of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program.

Typically when the Irish are in a Saturday-Monday stretch of Atlantic Coast Conference games, very little on-court work is done on the day in between. The Irish gather to watch film and stretch and maybe be on the floor long enough to get loose. That’s it. Then they’re off their feet so they can get on to the next game.

Then there was Sunday.

With sunrise still a few minutes away, the wind chill below zero and a couple of inches of fresh snow on the ground, the Irish found themselves in an unfamiliar spot as they prepared for the back half of their first Saturday-Monday league swing this season.

Following Saturday’s 27-point pasting by No. 3 Virginia at Purcell Pavilion, coach Mike Brey walked into the home locker room and offered all of one sentence as his team scrambles to figure a way out of a league losing streak that has stretched over two weeks and sits at four straight.

We’re practicing at 8 a.m.

Notre Dame (11-9; 1-6 ACC) then went old school and convened in the Pit in advance of Monday’s game against No. 2 Duke (17-2; 6-1). It needed to be in the Pit, the team’s old basement practice facility in Purcell Pavilion. Forget shiny and new Rolfs Hall. This wouldn’t work over there. Too cushy. Too nice. This needed to be a shut the doors, shut out any outside distractions and find some focus.

For about 30 minutes Sunday, the Irish got after it. Got up and down the floor. Got on the floor for loose balls. Got on the backboard. Got some semblance of offensive flow and confidence going so they can avoid a repeat Monday of what transpired Saturday.

Later Sunday, they returned for 30 more minutes and a scout session. A two-a-day in January? If that’s what it takes at this time for this team. At this point, winning is not the most important bullet point on the game plan. Notre Dame needs success in the worst of ways, perhaps now more than at any other time in Brey’s tenure. To get there, to even have a chance of getting there, the Irish need to do something they didn’t do Saturday.

Compete.

“We couldn’t get to that (Saturday),” Brey said. “We need to have some juices flowing and some competition.”

Notre Dame doesn’t have any more of a chance to beat Duke and its freshman class of future NBA first-round draft picks than it did Virginia. Everything has to fall the Irish way, and even that might not be nearly enough. Everybody knows it. Deep down, the guys in the home locker room even might know it.

That doesn’t mean they can’t offer an effort worthy of a win, something that didn’t happen Saturday. It has to happen Monday.

Just because the Irish are young with three freshmen and a sophomore in a rotation that rolls only eight deep can’t be a crutch to give a young effort. It can’t be an excuse to react in a way that youngsters do when something they want goes bad, and it went bad in a big way against Virginia. Notre Dame missed its first nine shots. It fell into a 12-0 hole barely six minutes in. Notre Dame was really good and calm and confident, maybe even a little bit cocky, for a six-minute segment to start the second half. That shaved what had been a 20-point deficit to 12. It was enough to even get a sellout crowd worked up. But just as quickly as Notre Dame showed signs of life, Virginia responded with six unanswered points in less than three minutes to bump its lead back to 18.

With the run answered, shoulders sagged. Heads dropped. Body language was bad. That’s seldom what the Irish have been about as a group in what’s been a tough and challenging and at too many times a frustrating season. Yes, Notre Dame is young, but Sunday’s morning session was the season’s 69th practice. The Irish have played 20 games. They’ve traveled to New York. To Los Angeles. To Indianapolis and to three ACC road games. They’re old enough to understand that you have to compete.

“We need to maintain that a full 40 minutes instead of for just that little spurt,” said freshman guard Dane Goodwin.

Notre Dame wasn’t going to win Saturday and likely won’t win Monday, but that’s no excuse to not offer effort. They know it.

“We just gotta keep pushing through and keep fighting,” said junior captain T.J. Gibbs. “It’s a struggle; it’s a fight. But we’re going to keep rolling with the punches and keep going.”

Rolling with those punches has been a common theme through this slide. Throwing a few would be nice.

Like it was Saturday, Purcell Pavilion on Monday is sold out. Don’t expect that to discourage this Duke team. A lot of fans may be in the stands to see how many times freshman Zion Williamson dunks on somebody’s head. How many times RJ Barrett carves up the Irish for easy buckets. How many points Cam Reddish scores and how many assists Tre Jones can get. Duke’s not going to be intimidated in a building that’s, at best, middle of the road in the league in terms of toughest places to play.

While Notre Dame was in Atlanta picking up the pieces of its near-miss against Georgia Tech on Tuesday, Duke was in Pittsburgh. Abandoned for pretty much the previous two seasons, the Petersen Events Center was jumping. The Oakland Zoo was lathered.

Duke took all that in and then sprinted to a double-digit lead less than 11 minutes in. It led by 19 at halftime. It won by 15. It never was close. It’s going to take more than Monday’s crowd to rattle the Blue Devils. It’s going to take effort and want-to and a resolve that the Irish have to have.

There’s no other option but to compete for 40 minutes or be undressed on national television and on their home floor.

Again.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is running short on buttons to press that might help get his guys going in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

WHO: Notre Dame (11-9; 1-6 ACC) vs. No. 2 Duke (17-2; 6-1).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Monday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: The game is a sellout.

TV: ESPN.

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

MEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Freshman swingman RJ Barrett scored 24 points with 11 rebounds while Duke forced 19 turnovers with 13 steals to erase a 29-27 halftime deficit and beat Georgia Tech at home on Saturday, 66-53. The Blue Devils shot a season low 9.5 percent (2-of-21) from 3 in the game. … Barrett leads the ACC in scoring at 23.9 ppg. … Fellow freshman Zion Williamson is the only player in the country averaging at least 20 points per game (21.7) and shooting at least 60 percent (.674) from the field. … Duke’s top four scorers all are freshmen starters. … The Blue Devils have won three in a row. … Duke returns no starters off last year’s team that finished 29-8, 13-5 and second place in the ACC. The Blue Devils were picked this preseason to win the league. They’ve been ranked inside the top four of the Associated Press poll all 12 weeks, including two different stints as No. 1. … Duke ranks second in the ACC in scoring offense (87.4 ppg.) and first in scoring margin (+21.2). … Duke leads the all-time series 24-7, 5-4 as ACC colleagues. After one recent series stretch of three-straight wins and five of six, the Irish have lost the last four. … Notre Dame is 0-4 against ranked teams. … Irish junior power forward John Mooney has had double doubles for points and rebounds in each of his last six games. He leads the ACC with 12.

QUOTING: “We gotta try and pick up and be more competitive. If you’re not ready to compete, you’re going to take another big punch.”

• Notre Dame coach Mike Brey