Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2021

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

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74 MARCH 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame felt like it was past this. Gone, the Irish thought, were the second-half let- downs, strings of empty pos- sessions and dispassionate displays of defense that led to a 3-8 start. A 4-1 record over a five-game stretch revealed they can get down and guard if they commit to it, they can take care of the ball and they can put opponents away after taking a halftime lead. With each recent vic- tory, those early season maladies felt more like bad memories instead of flaws that still linger. Not so fast. The good vibes met a pothole of old habits Feb. 6 in Atlanta. An 82- 80 loss at Georgia Tech featured all of them. The events that produced the defeat ought to sting more than the loss itself. Georgia Tech (9-6, 5-4 ACC) is a veteran ACC team whose top three scorers are as good as any trio in the league. It hadn't lost a home conference game this year. Notre Dame leaving with a loss was always a distinct possibility. In addition to taking an L, though, Notre Dame (7-10, 4-7 ACC) went into a Feb. 9 road game at Duke hav- ing revealed it is still not quite rid of troublesome tendencies and still a punch or two short against the better teams on its schedule. That's not a fun place to reside. Not one the Irish appeared destined for again. They're now 0-7 in Quadrant 1 opportunities (a home game against a NET top-30 team, neutral-court contest versus a NET top-50 team and road tilt with a NET top-75 team). Notre Dame and head coach Mike Brey spent the last few weeks do- ing some introspection for ways to bump up defensive intensity and ur- gency. There were practice tweaks and adjusted points of emphasis. In came the "stop-score" metric as a measuring stick and the one-on-one defensive "compete drill" designed to bring out some more pride on that end of the floor. The changes worked and brought some real, tangible improvement. Then it came to a halt. For the first time since Jan. 13, Notre Dame al- lowed more than 70 points and 1.0 points per possession. "I don't think our 'compete drill' mentality was very good tonight when we had to put a chest on a guy," Brey said. The game script is unnervingly familiar, too. The Irish opened by rip-cording through Georgia Tech on both ends and built a 50-35 halftime lead. They committed only two turn- overs and shot 65.5 percent in the opening 20 minutes. It was a swift and surgical performance. A third straight blowout victory ap- peared on the horizon. The last three times Notre Dame held a comfortable halftime lead, it emerged from the locker room and put the game to bed in short order. The previous time out, a 79-58 win over Wake Forest Feb. 2, a three-point advantage at the break swelled to 19 before five minutes had passed. Georgia Tech, though, needed only the first 2:28 of the half to pull within five. "Our defense kind of let us down tonight," Brey said. "We sure didn't start the second half like the last two games." In cutting a 17-point hole with 6:47 left in the first half to five points, Georgia Tech scored on 15 of 17 pos- sessions. The Yellow Jackets made 35 shots, and 18 of them were either a layup or dunk. They shot 62.5 per- cent in the second half. "We lost our defensive focus there for a little bit," junior forward Nate Laszewski said. "We played well of- fensively. We've got to get back to that defensive mentality." On the offense, Laszewski is by and large correct. Notre Dame still shot 59.3 percent for the game, its Notre Dame and Mike Brey let a 15-point halftime lead slip away in an 82-80 loss at Georgia Tech Feb. 6. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Unwelcomed Return Old habits make appearance as the Fighting Irish's recent run hits a speed bump

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