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March 1, 2012
When everything is going well and the team is rolling, it’s almost as if a press of a button is enough to bring it out.
Teamwork and chemistry become living, breathing things. Real. Tangible. Something you can touch.
Then you shoot 7-for-48 from three-point range, lose a clear focus of what’s at stake, and before you know it, a nine-game winning streak has become a two-game losing streak.
That’s what happened to the No. 20 Irish over the weekend when they fell to St. John’s, 61-58, in New York, and then traveled down I-95 to take on Georgetown, which put a 59-41 pasting on them.
“We just need to get back to playing the way we were playing,” said Irish sophomore Jerian Grant, who was 3-for-21 from the field, including 2-for-14 from three-point range, during the two losses.
“Just getting back to having that edge about us. Coming off two losses, we need to fight for this win. We’re coming from the bottom and trying to fight back to the top.”
For fifth-year senior Scott Martin, who truly has, along with sophomore captain Eric Atkins, become the leader of this team, it boils down to a couple of basic tenets of the game.
“We’ve got to get better shooting the ball,” Martin said. “We’ve got to get more confident. Thankfully, the game is at home. That automatically will knock you up a couple of notches.
“Defensively, we have to be sharper. Really, all around, we have to be sharper. We kind of lulled there. It’s important for us to get off to a get start and get going.”
It wasn’t like Notre Dame’s defense suddenly collapsed against St. John’s and Georgetown. Going into the weekend, if someone would have told the Irish they would allow a combined 120 points, most would have thought that would be good enough for at least one victory and possibly two.
The Irish just couldn’t score the basketball.
“I didn’t feel like our defense struggled this weekend,” said junior Jack Cooley, whose two points and zero rebounds against the Hoyas broke a long string of strong performances.
“I feel like our offense lost its groove and its flow, and that was a problem. Georgetown didn’t score that much; we just didn’t score back. We just need to get back in our offensive groove.”
Personally responsible for that offensive groove, in addition to the team’s leading assist man, Grant, is Atkins. For Atkins, it’s more a frame of mind than a physical shortcoming that did the Irish in.
“Just play hard, that’s the main thing. It’s about getting that edge back,” said Atkins, who was 6-for-19 from the field and 2-for-9 from beyond the arc against St. John’s and Georgetown. “This is a huge game for us, securing a double bye. We’re really playing for something right now, and I think we lost sight of that during the weekend.”
In some respects, the nine-game winning streak that the Irish took with them out East was an albatross hanging around their necks.
“I definitely think so,” said Atkins when asked if the winning skein had become a burden. “It’s in the back of your mind. The win streak keeps piling up. Starting brand new is good for us. I don’t think we wanted to lose two straight. But it’s a clean slate and a good week of practice has been good for us.”
“It’s hard to keep that level for that long, but there’s still no excuse for some of the things we did and some of the plays we made,” Martin added. “There are areas we definitely lacked in and we made mistakes. We’ve got to look at it as something we can build on and get better from.”
When the Irish got on the plane to take them east last Friday, the players knew in the back of their minds that a loss, or even two, probably wouldn’t be enough to derail their double-bye dreams in the Big East tournament, as long as they came home and defeated Providence.
Now that the worst-case scenario has come to fruition, it’s time to kick it back into gear.
“We’re actually really fighting for something now,” Grant said. “We’re fighting for the double bye, fighting to get back on track. We need to get back to playing quality basketball.”
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