It was rough week for the Irish Men’s basketball team. After a nice win in Cincinnati, Notre Dame entered this week with two supposedly very winnable games against Connecticut and St John’s. As Irish fans know by now, these last few days haven’t turned out quite like they expected, or at least hoped for. Both of these opponents were younger and less experienced, and yet the Irish were the ones who looked confused on defense, indecisive on offense, and out coached on the sideline. There were some questionable moves on Coach Brey’s part in regards to personnel decisions, and some extremely conservative play by the team on the court.
Connecticut came into Purcell Pavilion on Saturday and did something that not many teams do, and that is beat the Irish on their home court. Coach Brey is the 5th winningest coach in Big East history, and his teams have historically been tough in South bend, but that trend would not continue on Saturday. Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier accounted for 19 points, and forward Tyler Olander had a career high 16 points, with 12 of those coming in the second half. There is no doubt that first year Husky head coach Kevin Ollie has his squad playing solid basketball, but it was Ollie who looked like the veteran coach, as he and his team outplayed and outcoached the Irish in the final minute of their win in South Bend. The Irish struggled getting the ball down low to Jack Cooley, and even when they did, the Huskies did a great job of denying the Irish anything easy underneath. In the last 48 games, Notre Dame has only lost twice at home, and it has been Connecticut who has delivered both of those losses.
After just two short days off, the Irish hit the road and were ready to enter their personal house of horrors, Madison Square Garden in New York. It is no secret that Notre Dame has had its share of struggles in this iconic arena in recent history, and Tuesday night would prove no different. The Irish and Red Storm would exchange baskets early and often, bit it was St. Johns who headed into halftime with a 32-31 lead over Notre Dame. At the 12 minute mark of the second half, the Irish found themselves down by 12 points 55-43, as the Red Storm were having their way underneath, and from outside. This is the same St. Johns team that was 10-6 on the year, and losers of four out of their last five games.
Conservative coaching, bad shot selection on offense, and poor defense were just some of the issues the Irish dealt with Tuesday night, and it wasn’t until Irish guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant led an 18-4 run, that the Irish finally secured a late lead. What brought the Irish back from a double digit deficit is exactly the opposite of what they displayed in the final minute and a half in New York. Forward Jack Cooley found himself on the bench late in the game, and the Irish had no athletic presence underneath. This was never more evident than when Tom Knight received a great pass underneath by Irish guard Eric Atkins, but went on to get blocked from behind on a dunk attempt that would have put the Irish up 65-64 with under a minute to go. Instead of taking the lead, the Irish found themselves in a position where they had to foul, and eventually ended up losing the game 67-63, a game they had no reason to lose. Yes, it is a fact that winning any Big East road game is not an easy task to pull off, but this game is one the Irish should have won.
Coach Brey has got to figure out what type of team he has this year , and what type of offense he wants to run. The Irish have no true “go to” guy at the end of the ballgame, so it is imperative that they maintain composure and play as a team. What makes very little since is the fact that when the Irish were down big, they became very aggressive in driving to the hope and scoring, or getting fouled. As soon as they took the lead, Brey calls a time out, and once again,they look timid and passive. Do Irish teams win games because of Brey, or in spite of him, this is a question many Irish fans have been asking themselves. Having Cooley sitting on the bench for the final few minutes of the game is unacceptable, unless there was a issue that we were not familiar with, like an injury or some type of insubordination. Tom Knight has scored a total of 16 points this whole season, which is one less than Cooley is averaging per game on the whole year. While we are fans of Brey utilizing the bench a bit more, Tuesday nights scenario is not the time to start.
The Irish will try to regroup and refocus as they still have to deal with an improved Rutgers squad on Saturday evening, and that will be followed up by rival Georgetown visiting Purcell Pavilion on Monday night. Make no mistake that both of these games are important, and neither the Irish players or their coach can afford to be passive or indecisive in either one. The Rutgers game can be seen on ESPN Full Court and ESPN 3, with tip-off coming at 8:00pm. The game vs. the Hoyas can be seen at 7:30pm on ESPN and ESPN 3.
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