Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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74 MARCH 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY TODD D. BURLAGE V eteran Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey admitted to offer- ing some self-serving damage control and a phony marketing ploy back in December when he an- nounced that this year's Fighting Irish might be the best defensive team he has ever fielded. Brey offered the suggestion as a way to cover the reality that his team was struggling to score even 70 points in a game. During a 16-day stretch through late November and early December, Notre Dame tallied a paltry 63 points against Presbyterian College, 64 versus Toledo in an overtime game and a season-low 51 points against Maryland. "That was a sales job," Brey finally admitted to his misleading defensive claim, shortly after a lineup tweak Jan. 25 against Florida State helped his Irish finally find their mojo on offense. By relying more on a smaller four- guard lineup that features 6-6 shoot- ing guard Dane Goodwin coming off the bench to replace 6-11 starting forward Juwan Durham in longer stretches, the Irish offense almost im- mediately became more productive in the weeks that followed. Notre Dame scored at least 75 points in six straight games — win- ning four of those — and 80 points or more in five straight games, the longest such scoring streak ever for the Irish in ACC play. "I don't want to say too much. I don't want to jinx us," said senior Irish guard T.J. Gibbs, whose terrific shooting and consistent play has been one primary reason for the scoring surge. "We found something that's working." Gibbs ranks among the top five shooters in ACC play in field goals, three-pointers and free throws. Notre Dame's 80-point scoring streak came to end Feb. 9 against Clemson, though the Irish still pulled out a grinding 61-57 road win over the Tigers — its fourth straight victory at the time. The winning streak moved Notre Dame from the bottom of the ACC standings into a crowded middle of the pack. And with a lighter stretch- run schedule beginning later this month, plenty of opportunity re- mains for the Irish to make even more upward movement in the 15-team league. "We're all within striking distance," Brey said of his team's February push for some March Madness hope. "If we can keep plugging along, picking some off, we can be right there." BREY'S BLOWUP With the way this ACC season started out for Brey, the Irish coach could be excused for letting his emo- tions boil over in Tallahassee, Fla., after a heartbreaking 85-84 loss at then-No. 5 Florida State Jan. 25. This was already the fifth ACC game this season Notre Dame had lost by five points or fewer — four of those by three points or fewer and two by one point — which put the Irish near the bottom of the league standings at 2-6 and Brey in a cranky mood. With 20 years' experience working the Notre Dame sidelines, Brey un- derstands that losing close games is an occupational hazard. But he said in his post-game press conference that questionable officiating should not be. Two controversial traveling calls on the Irish, a no-foul call on Durham underneath the Irish basket on what could have been a game-tying play, and then an unexpected technical foul levied on the Irish bench — all within the last three minutes of the game — left Brey to offer a conspiracy theory regarding Notre Dame athletics and to chastise veteran ACC official John Gaffney by name. "We're treated by the officials like we haven't brought football in as a full member, yet, we get a full share Senior guard T.J. Gibbs' hot streak has helped boost Notre Dame's offensive firepower in conference action. He ranks among the top five in the ACC in field goal shooting (54.4 percent) and three-point accuracy (50.0 percent), and is No. 1 in converting free throws (90.2 percent). PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA On A Hot Streak Small ball paying big dividends for the Fighting Irish

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