Irish Stick Together

Author: Sean Stires

Connaughton_3This has just been one of those Murphy’s Law kind of seasons for the Notre Dame basketball team. In a span of less than two months, the Irish have seen their leading scorer (Jerian Grant) expelled for academics, one of their top recruits in the past five years (Cam Biedscheid) announced he was transferring and  another player (Austin Burgett) underwent a procedure for an irregular heartbeat.

On top of all of that, another highly regarded young player (Demetrius Jackson) was not only not in the lineup, but not on the bench for what turned into a 68-64 double-overtime win over Clemson Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion. Through it all, Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish have stayed together this season.

“You could say they’ve had a number of distractions this season,” Brey said after Tuesday’s win. “I don’t think that’s ever affected them when we’ve lost personnel – by injury (or) by whatever. They’ve come back and played and other guys have known they’re going to get more of an opportunity.”

“I don’t think they’ve ever been distracted,” Brey continued. “They’re almost prepared for it on a daily basis.”

Brey said afterward that Jackson’s absence is due to “poor academic habits” and if he works hard he could be back with the team for Sunday’s game at Boston College. The last time an Irish player said so long for academic reasons, the Irish melted down in the waning minutes of what could have been a signature win over Ohio State.

With Jackson on the outside of Purcell looking in, the Irish nearly saw Tuesday night’s game get away as well. Clemson used a 7-0 run to end regulation to send the game to overtime.

“We weren’t expecting the 1-3-1,” Zach Auguste said of the defensive switch the best defensive team in the ACC made at the end of regulation. “I think it slowed us down a little bit, but we came together strongly and we finished it.”

Auguste had his first career double-double in the victory with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He seemed most affected by Clemson’s late switch to the 1-3-1. He scored no points in either of the two overtime periods.

“We have only used it a couple of times this year and very little,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownwell said of the 1-3-1 employment. “I can’t imagine Notre Dame knew much about it and worked against it in practice.”

Add that wrinkle to the list of wrinkles Brey and the Irish have faced this season. Pat Connaughton has been one of Notre Dame’s Super Glue men during this tumultuous season. He came into Tuesday night with the third-most minutes played of any player in the ACC. He played 49 of 50 minutes against the Tigers.

“I think everything that’s happened to us this year has just made that resolve grow that much more,” Connaughton said when asked how the Irish have battled through adversity this season. “It’s just something that we’ve had to have had. It was forced upon us and we obviously didn’t want it to happen, but it’s something that’s made us stronger. We’ve got to keep that mentality moving forward.”

Connaughton shook off a 3 for 10 night from the field (1 for 7 on 3-pointers) to score 13 points. His last two of the night came at the free throw line with 18.3 second left in the final OT to seal the four-point win.

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